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Islamic State’s ammunition shown to have origins in US and China

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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, although 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 per cent 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.

Bevan said that the aged Soviet ammunition appeared to match the contents of the storehouses of the Syrian military, which has long received equipment from the Kremlin.

Another sizable fraction of the cartridges matched ammunition that the United States supplied to Iraq's military and police units for nearly a decade during the occupation after the US-led invasion in 2003.


On one matter, Bevan said, the data pointed to a familiar puzzle: the large proportion of Chinese ammunition — 445 cartridges or nearly 26 per cent of the total.

This was not a surprise, Bevan noted, as "China is a massive supplier" of military-grade ammunition around the world and the presence of its ammunition is a common feature in modern conflicts.

The Chinese ammunition used by the Islamic State fighters, he said, could have originally been provided to Syrian forces, to Iraqi forces or to any number of other countries that then retransferred Chinese-made cartridges to the region.

Determining its routes into the conflict, he said, would require further research, as China's ammunition exports often "are not transparent in any way".


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