In its campaign across northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group Islamic State has been using ammunition from the United States and other countries that have been supporting the regional security forces fighting the group, according to new field data gathered by a private arms-tracking organization.

The data, part of a larger sample of captured arms and cartridges in Syria and Iraq, carries an implicit warning for policy makers and advocates of intervention.

It suggests that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power. Rifle cartridges from the United States, the sample shows, have played a significant role.

“The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition,” said James Bevan, director ofConflict Armament Research, the organization that is gathering and analyzing weapons used by the Islamic State.Photo

Providing weapons to the regional proxies, Mr. Bevan added, is “a massive risk that is heightened by poorly motivated security forces that are facing great challenges.”

The Islamic State fighters have proved adept at arming themselves as they have expanded their territory. Analysts and rival rebels say the group has gathered weapons from other antigovernment groups in Syria that have joined its ranks, from purchases from Syrian rebels who receive weapons from foreign donors, from battlefield captures and from deals with corrupt members of the security forces in Syria and Iraq.

One Syrian rebel commander said the group, which is also called ISIS or ISIL, has often picked where and when to fight by measuring the potential spoils that might be gained in a local victory.

“When battling against the Syrian Army, ISIS chooses to fight in a specific battle on a specific front only when the investment is appealing: there will be warehouses to capture,” said Fouad al-Ghuraibi, commander of the Kafr Owaid’s Martyrs Brigade, in northern Syria.

After the jihadists seized a Syrian air base near Hama last year, Mr. Ghuraibi noted, they needed a fleet of heavy trucks to move their haul of captured weapons and ammunition.

He also said that a portion of the Islamic State’s ammunition had come from black-market deals with the group’s enemies, including the Syrian army, but he added that “the numbers in these deals couldn’t be high, as the officers on the regime side have had to keep it low to keep it hidden.”

Conflict Armament Research’s field survey is part of a continuing project funded by the European Union to identify the militant group’s weapons and weapon sources, and display them transparently on a global online mapping system known as iTrace. It appears to confirm and add layers of detail to what has been reported anecdotally.

Its samples included 1,730 cartridges that had been manufactured as far back as 1945 and as recently as this year. Most of the ammunition was for rifles and machine guns, though a small fraction was for pistols, too.

The ammunition was captured last summer by Kurdish fighters or collected by the organization’s investigators at recently abandoned Islamic State fighting positions. Each cartridge’s manufacturing provenance was then established by documenting its markings, known as headstamps.

Once the tallying was done, the investigators had identified 21 nations as sources of cartridges that were once possessed by Islamic State fighters, showing that these militants, like many rebel or insurgent groups, have diverse sources of supply.

A deeper look pointed to what would seem to be widespread leakage from local security forces.

More than 80 percent of the ammunition was manufactured in China, the former Soviet Union, the United States, post-Soviet Russia or Serbia. The organization’s analysis suggests that much of this ammunition was held by security forces in the region, and then commandeered by militants.Continue reading the main story
Tracing ISIS’ Ammunition, by Country and Decade

An analysis by Conflict Armament Research, an organization that is collecting evidence of weaponry used by the Islamic State, suggests that militants have commandeered much of their ammunition from Iraqi and Syrian security forces.

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