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Some Weapons Bound For Syrian Rebels End Up With ISIS

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

ISIS has used ammunition and arms from many sources in its campaign in Kobani and across Syria and northern Iraq. The private group that tries to track these weapons is called Conflict Armament Research. This week, they released a new report. They found that the weapons come from over 20 countries and include arms that are both modern and sometimes decades-old. Damien Spleeters is a field investigator from the group. He joins us from the BBC studios in Brussels. Thanks for being with us.

DAMIEN SPLEETERS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What did you find?

SPLEETERS: Well, we found that ISIS has been moving things they captured in Iraq to Syria, and more specifically to Kobani, in a matter of weeks. For us, it was very interesting because it showed that the militants had a very flexible, very strong line of supply between the Eastern and Western front line and that for them, Kobani was already, in July, a very strategic point to take. The second thing we have found is about the ammunition ISIS has been using - so far comes from more than 20 countries. And for us, it means that the group is ready for the long haul. It's sitting on a huge pile of ammunition, and the type of battles that we see right now in Iraq and Syria are battles of attrition in which the first to lose is the first to run out of ammunition.

SIMON: And how modern or ancient are some of these weapons?

SPLEETERS: It varies. So we have found weapons from the '60s and the '70s that are still perfectly working. We have found modern weapons. We have found ammunition from 1945, for example, or ammunition from 2013-2014.

SIMON: Are these armaments that some Western country gives to either some government in the area, some army or even some non-state actor, as they're called, and they wind up getting left behind, or they wind up getting robbed, or what happens?

SPLEETERS: There's a lot of options here. So, for example, a state-to-state trade in which a government will sell weapons and ammunition to, for example, Syria, and then the material would be captured by ISIS. Another option, as you mentioned, is that a country in the region would supply material to another group fighting the Syrian regime, and then that material would then end up in the hand of ISIS. Or, for example, the material provided by the U.S. to Iraqi security forces that would then be captured by ISIS and used in Iraq or brought back to Syria.

SIMON: To put the fine point on it, some people might be thinking if the U.S. increases armaments to what it believes to be moderate Syrian rebel groups, based on your experience and observation, they may not remain in the hands of those groups?

SPLEETERS: Weapons and ammunition that are on the battlefield are very fluid. And depending on the material, it's almost impossible to make sure that the end-user remains in control of the weapons and ammunition you have been providing.

SIMON: Mr. Spleeters, what conclusions, if any, do you draw about ISIS based on what you've seen?

SPLEETERS: It's a bit too early, I think, for us to draw conclusions. But we have important observations about what ISIS is doing. You see a lot of weapons that ISIS is showing through their, you know, video channels or pictures. But that is not always what they bring to the battle. So this type of study shows you what they are, you know, using every day on the battlefield and then what they need in terms of supply.

Another observation, for example, is that the time between manufacture and being used by ISIS is very short. We have found ammunition from Iran from after 2006, as recently as 2013, and that could also be a breach of a U.N. arms embargo. So we will keep on, you know, conducting those missions and collecting material. And I think in the coming months, we will also send tracing requests to understand the chain of custody of the weapons we have been seeing. And then we'll be able to draw conclusions on what ISIS is doing.

SIMON: Damien Spleeters is a field investigator with the private weapons tracking group Conflict Armament Research. He joined us from Brussels. Thanks for being with us.

SPLEETERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.