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08 Feb 18

Germany Closes Probe Into Balkan Arms Transfers to Syria

A German prosecutor will not launch a full investigation into BIRN revelations that Balkan weapons bound for US-backed Syrian rebels passed through Ramstein airbase.

Lawrence Marzouk BIRN Belgrade


A preliminary investigation has been closed into revelations that Syria-bound weapons, bought by the US from the Balkans, passed through Germany.

The findings were published in September by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The prosecution office of the German city of Kaiserslautern announced on Wednesday, February 7, that while it did not rule out that weapons bound for Syria had passed through the US airbase , “no indications of concrete arms transports” via Ramstein were discovered, precluding the launch of a criminal investigation.

It said that checks were carried out to see if the US military failed to properly declare the movement of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe through the base, which is 20 kilometres from Kaiserslautern.

German laws dictate that licences to transport weapons must be accompanied by end user certificates which state the final destination of the shipment and who will be using the equipment.

BIRN revealed last September how the Pentagon had used misleading end user certificate for weapons destined for Syria, declaring that the equipment would be used by the “US government” and making 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 2017. These include a delivery for the Pentagon’s US Special Operations Command Mission, SOCOM, which is responsible for buying weapons for Syrian rebels, which was 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”.

A leaked SOCOM email obtained by BIRN, official US procurement documents and the testimony of an insider confirmed that the Pentagon had been forced to reroute 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 SOCOM had ordered its contractors to stop trucking Soviet-style munitions from the Balkans through Germany in December 2016 following the concerns. Some Syria-bound weapons due to be delivered to Germany have since been routed through Croatia and Bulgaria, according to official procurement files obtained by BIRN.

In December 2015, photos were published in the Serbian press revealing that a number of US air force C-17 cargo planes had delivered Serbian weapons to the Ramstein airbase.

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 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.

A contract issued last summer for up to $500m of Eastern Bloc arms for anti-ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq also gives Ramstein’s neighbour, the Miesau arms depot, as a delivery point.

In a report published in December, Conflict Armament Research group, which runs an EU-funded project to track weapons in warzones, found that Bulgarian rockets delivered to Ramstein for use by the "US army" may have ended up with ISIS in Iraq.

Although the findings of this case were not definitive, the report underlined BIRN’s findings that weapons were being systematically diverted by the US to Syrian rebels without permission from the exporting countries in the Balkans and Central Europe.

SOCOM has previously 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.