A BIRN investigation has sparked an official probe into whether the Pentagon broke the law by sending weapons to Syrian rebels through its German airbases.
By Lawrence Marzouk and Ivan Angelovski
A public prosecutor in the German city of Kaiserslautern will carry out a preliminary investigation into the findings of an investigation published on Tuesday by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Checks will be carried out to see if the US military failed to properly declare the movement of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe through Ramstein, which is 20 kilometres from Kaiserslautern, the German news agency dpa reported yesterday evening.
The prosecutor will determine if there is sufficient evidence of a criminal offence requiring a more extensive investigation
The news came as BIRN published fresh information linking Ramstein to the Pentagon’s huge operation to buy up vast quantities of Soviet-style weapons in Central and Eastern Europe for Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State in Syria.
BIRN revealed earlier this week how the Pentagon has rerouted its weapons supply-line to Syria after officials in Berlin became concerned at the surge in arms being transferred through US bases in Germany.
The investigation exposed how the Pentagon’s US Special Operations Command Mission, SOCOM, which is responsible for buying weapons for Syrian rebels, had ordered its contractors to stop trucking Soviet-style munitions from the Balkans through Germany in December 2016 following the concerns.
In a leaked email, obtained by reporters, the SOCOM official charged with buying Soviet-style weapons for Syrian rebels and other Pentagon-backed militia told contractors that authorities in Germany had become “very sensitive” to the high number of requests from US contractors for transit licences to move weapons across their territory to US military bases.
The Pentagon’s arms brokers were informed that the State Department would take over responsibility for requesting new transit licences as the permits were “taking longer than normal due to large number of requests and questions [from German authorities]”.
Germany has long been a key logistical hub for the US army but its bases’ role in the Syria supply-line has never been acknowledged by authorities in the US or Germany.
The German government earlier declined to comment on the nature of its “sensitivities”, and at a press conference on Thursday, continued to insist it has no knowledge of the movement of weapons to Syria.
German laws, however, dictate that licences to transport weapons must be accompanied by end user certificates which states the final destination of the shipment and who will be using the equipment.
According to the German government, no such licence has been issued for deliveries to Syria or neighbouring countries since 2010.
The report was backed up by one of SOCOM’s most important contractors on its Syrian contract, Global Ordnance, which shared the story on Facebook adding: “Glad Global Ordnance could contribute to support our military!”
A German government spokesperson told a press conference on Thursday in Berlin that he learned of this report through the recent reports by Süddeutsche Zeitung.
A 2013 court case in California between SOCOM contractors and sub-contractors also revealed how Bulgarian weapons were due to be delivered by truck to Ramstien before their onward journey to an unnamed destination.
A Buzzfeed investigation linked the delivery to the CIA’s burgeoning campaign to arm anti-Assad rebels at the time.
Germany’s ignorance of deliveries to the Middle East is perhaps not a surprise as a SOCOM end user certificate for weapons destined for Syria, seen by reporters, said the equipment would be used by the “US government” and made no mention of the Middle Eastern country.
It did, however, allow for the goods to be transferred to unspecified “partner forces”.
This formulation matches a series of documents leaked online in June. These include a SOCOM delivery initially destined for the Miesau US ammunition depot, which serves Ramstein, but which was rerouted to Bagram, Afghanistan, in early January, following “last minute changes to program circumstances”.
SOCOM said it currently does not “store or transit” equipment bound for Syria through German bases and had “specifically directed our contracted vendors” not to do so.
But it has repeatedly declined to confirm whether it had been moving weapons through Germany to Syria prior to 2017, explaining it had not used “contracted flights” from US bases to do so, a question reporters had not asked.
A Pentagon contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told BIRN and OCCRP that deliveries of weapons were made to Ramstein and other US bases for onward journey to Syria.
But he added that he believed private deliveries to German bases had not resumed following the SOCOM diktat.