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Pentagon watchdog finds some Western weaponry sent to Ukraine was stolen before being recovered last year

<i>Mauricio Campino/US Air Force/Reuters/File</i><br/>In this January 2022 photo
Mauricio Campino/US Air Force/Reuters/File
In this January 2022 photo

By Natasha Bertrand and Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) — Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine stole some Western-provided weapons and equipment intended for Ukrainian troops last year before it was recovered, according to a Defense Department inspector general report obtained by CNN.

The plots to steal the weaponry and equipment were disrupted by Ukraine’s intelligence services and it was ultimately recovered, according to the report, titled “DoD’s Accountability of Equipment Provided to Ukraine.” CNN obtained the report via a Freedom of Information Act request. first reported the news.

But the inspector general report noted that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the Defense Department’s ability to track and monitor all of the US equipment pouring into Ukraine, as required by law under the Arms Export Control Act, faced “challenges” because of the limited US presence in the country.

According to the report, which examined the period of February-September 2022, the Office of Defense Cooperation-Kyiv “was unable to conduct required [end-use monitoring] of military equipment that the United States provided to Ukraine in FY 2022.”

“The inability of DoD personnel to visit areas where equipment provided to Ukraine was being used or stored significantly hampered ODC-Kyiv’s ability to execute” the monitoring, the report added.

The report is dated October 6, 2022. In late October, the US resumed on-site inspections of Ukrainian weapons depots as a way to better track where the equipment was going. The department has also provided the Ukrainians with tracking systems, including scanners and software, the Pentagon’s former under secretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl, told lawmakers in February.

But the report underscores how difficult it was in the early days of the war for the US to track the billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment it was sending to Ukraine.

A State Department spokesperson responded to the report on Friday.

“The US government remains keenly aware of the risk of possible illicit diversion and is proactively taking steps to mitigate this risk in close cooperation with the government of Ukraine. We are realistic that we are sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself in an active conflict, and there is a risk these weapons could be captured if territory changes hands – which happens in any war,” the spokesperson said.

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration over what they view as a lack of accountability over the billions of dollars of aid going to Ukraine. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said earlier this year that he supports Ukraine but doesn’t “support a blank check.” The same sentiment has been shared by Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

CNN reported in April 2022 that the Biden administration was willing to take the risk of losing track of weapons supplied to Ukraine despite a lack of visibility, as they saw it as critical to Ukraine’s defeat of Russian forces.

“We have fidelity for a short time, but when it enters the fog of war, we have almost zero,” a source briefed on US intelligence told CNN at the time. “It drops into a big black hole, and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time.”

US European Command tried to alleviate the issue last year by requesting and maintaining hand receipts from the Ukrainians, which the Ukrainians made a “good faith effort” to provide, the report says, citing EUCOM personnel. The personnel did not provide the IG with corroborating paperwork by the time the investigation concluded, however, the report notes.

The Office of Defense Cooperation-Kyiv also asked the Ukrainian government for expenditure, loss, and damage reports for US-provided equipment, the report says, and they “made efforts to prevent illicit proliferation of defense material provided by the United States.”

Still, criminal organizations managed to steal some weaponry and equipment provided by the US and its allies, the report says.

In late June 2022, an organized crime group overseen by an unnamed Russian official joined a volunteer battalion using forged documents and stole weapons, including a grenade launcher and machine gun, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, the report says. Ukraine’s intelligence service disrupted the plot, according to the report.

That same month, Ukraine’s intelligence services also disrupted a plot by arms traffickers working to sell weapons and ammunition they stole from the frontlines in southern Ukraine, as well as a separate plot by Ukrainian criminals posing as aid workers who stole $17,000 worth of bulletproof vests, the report says.

And in August 2022, Ukraine’s intelligence services discovered a group of volunteer battalion members who stole 60 rifles and almost 1,000 rounds of ammunition and stored them in a warehouse, “presumably for sale on the black market.”

The report does not specify whether the weapons and equipment were American, but the anecdotes are outlined in a highly redacted section that deals with Ukrainian tracking of US-provided weaponry.

The Pentagon inspector general wrote that some larger items like missiles and helicopters were easier to track through intelligence mechanisms. Smaller items, like night-vision devices, however, were harder to monitor.

The report ultimately does not make any recommendations, noting that the Defense Department “has made some efforts to mitigate the inability to conduct in-person” monitoring.

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