U.S. military outposts in Iraq and Syria are plagued by thefts of weapons and equipment, according to exclusive documents obtained by The Intercept that show militias and criminal gangs are systematically targeting U.S. forces.
Military investigations launched earlier this year found that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” — including guided missile launch systems as well as drones — have been stolen in Iraq. This follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in military gear that were purloined from U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria between 2020 and 2022, as
America’s bases in Iraq and Syria ostensibly exist to conduct “
The U.S. has increasingly responded to those attacks. In Syria, the U.S. launched “precision strikes” on a “training facility and a safe house” allegedly used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. has since employed an
But the criminal investigation documents obtained by The Intercept demonstrate that the U.S. cannot even secure its equipment, much less protect its troops.
“We don’t tend to think nearly critically enough about the ripple effects of such an expansive U.S. military footprint,” Stephanie Savell, co-director of Brown University’s Costs of War Project, told The Intercept. “The so-called war on terror isn’t over — it’s just morphed. And we can understand these weapons thefts as just one of the many political costs of that ongoing campaign.”
Details about the thefts in Iraq, which were never made public by the military, are found in criminal investigations files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
In February, military investigators were notified that 13 commercial drones, valued at about $162,500, were stolen from a U.S. facility in Erbil, Iraq, sometime last year. The agents identified no suspects, and no leads are mentioned in the file.
A separate investigation discovered that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” including targeting sight and launcher units for Javelin missiles — a shoulder-fired guided missile that locks on its targets — were stolen at or en route to Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq. The loss to the U.S. government was estimated at almost $480,000.In February, military investigators were notified that 13 commercial drones were stolen from a U.S. facility in Erbil, Iraq.
Investigators did not believe the thefts were an inside job. “No known U.S. personnel were involved,” according to a criminal investigations file. The investigators instead refer to locals as the likely suspects. “Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment,” the document stated. “Further there have been systemic issues with U.S. containers being pilfered by these groups and local nationals outside of Union III, due to the lack of security.”
Earlier this year, The Intercept revealed
Just how many thefts have occurred is unknown — perhaps even to the Pentagon. After more than two months, both Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve, which oversees America’s war in Iraq and Syria, and its parent organization, U.S. Central Command, failed to respond to any of The Intercept’s questions about weapons thefts in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier this year, the task force admitted that it does not know the extent of the problem: A spokesperson said the task force has no record of any thefts from U.S. forces. “[W]e do not have the requested information,” Capt. Kevin T. Livingston, then CJTF-OIR’s director of public affairs, told The Intercept when asked if any weapons, ammunition, or equipment were stolen in the last five years.
The thefts and losses uncovered by The Intercept are just the latest weapons accountability woes to afflict the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria. A
Losses of weapons and ammunition are significant — and the military has taken pains to prevent them in the past. When the U.S. withdrew forces from an outpost near Kobani, Syria, in 2019, it
Since the outbreak of Israel’s war on Gaza, it’s become ever more apparent that U.S. bases in the Middle East serve as magnets for attack, although far-flung outposts have been periodically targeted in other conflict zones. In 2019, for example, the terrorist group al-Shabab assaulted a
In recent weeks, America’s bases in Iraq and Syria have sometimes come under persistent attack, including as many as
The investigation files obtained by The Intercept offer evidence that U.S. military bases also provide tempting targets for criminals. Earlier this year, The Intercept reported on a daring