Exclusive documents obtained by The Intercept shed light on systematic thefts of weapons and equipment plaguing U.S. military outposts in Iraq and Syria. Military investigations launched earlier this year uncovered the theft of "multiple sensitive weapons and equipment," including guided missile launch systems and drones, in Iraq. This follows earlier reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of military gear stolen from U.S. troops in the region between 2020 and 2022.
While these bases are ostensibly established for "counter-ISIS missions," experts suggest they primarily serve as a deterrent against Iran. The bases, facing regular rocket and drone attacks amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, have been unable to secure their equipment, raising concerns about the safety of U.S. forces.
The Intercept's obtained criminal investigation documents, never publicly disclosed by the military, reveal details about the thefts. In one instance, 13 commercial drones valued at approximately $162,500 were reported stolen from a U.S. facility in Erbil, Iraq, with no identified suspects. Another investigation highlighted the theft of "multiple sensitive weapons and equipment," including Javelin missile targeting sight and launcher units, estimated at almost $480,000 in losses, at or en route to Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq.
Contrary to suspicions of insider involvement, investigators attributed the thefts to local actors, stating, "Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment." The documents highlighted systemic issues of pilfering due to a lack of security, emphasizing the challenges the U.S. military faces in safeguarding its assets in the region.
Stephanie Savell, co-director of Brown University's Costs of War Project, noted the broader implications of an expansive U.S. military presence, stating, "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."