Washington authorised a small Delaware-based arms contractor to purchase weapons from “Europe’s last dictatorship” to arm US-trained rebels in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it ended in disaster.
An investigation by Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston reveals that Purple Shovel LLC — founded in 2010 by former counterintelligence officer Benjamin Worrell — was payed $US50 million by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in December to provide the US-trained New Syrian Force with foreign weapons and ammunition.
These weapons included 700 Russian-designed Konkurs missiles, which are only readily available in Belarus — a country ruled by dictator Alexander Lukashenko with multiple human rights violations that is generally off limits to arms dealers.
“Belarus is on a special ‘International Traffic in Arms Regulations’ list published by the U.S. State Department, of countries with bans or special restrictions,” Roston writes.
“The State Department has to licence almost every deal involving US companies, and arms dealers say they are almost always prohibited from buying weapons from Belarus, because it is on that list.”
Other equipment Purple Shovel was supposed to buy for the Syrian rebels included rocket-propelled grenades, which the company reportedly ended up buying from Bulgaria.
SOCOM turned down the Bulgarian-made grenades after learning that they had been manufactured in 1984, making them dangerous and unreliable.
But one of the grenades still ended up the hands of an American defence contractor training in Bulgaria who died when it exploded unexpectedly.
Purple Shovel called it a “tragic accident.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the US-backed rebels ever received equipment, according to Buzzfeed.
Not the first time
This is not the first time the US has tried to intervene in the rebel cause by quietly shipping them arms purchased abroad by a proxy.
In 2013, a Croatian newspaper reported that 3,000 tons of weapons dating back to the former Yugoslavia had been purchased by Saudi Arabia — at the US’ request — and sent to Syrian rebels deemed “nationalist and secular,” the Daily Telegraph reported.
Weapons shipments were reportedly coordinated by “several other European countries including Britain”, which had announced in February 2013 that it would be providing non-lethal assistance and training to the rebels, according to the Telegraph.
Arming Syrian rebels with weapons from Croatia — which wasn’t set to join the European Union until July 1, 2013 — allowed Britain, in coordination with the US and Saudi Arabia, to circumvent the EU arms embargo on Syria, the paper noted.
There is evidence that the US provided weapons to the rebels via another controversial channel — Libyan government arsenals.
As Business Insider’2, US agents were at least aware of heavy weapons — presumably from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock — moving from Libya to Syrian rebels. Those missles were used to shoot down regime aircraft, Reuters and the New York Times reported.
This is in line with what a source told Fox News at the time, which is that murdered U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens
was in Benghazi “to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists.”
By then, the New York Times reported, the CIA already had agents stationed in southern Turkey deciding which Syrian rebel groups would receive US-made automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons.