Will weapons from Afghanistan end up in the hands of police?

Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Organizers and Candidates, n°96 | 21 July 2021

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We’re not sure where the military gear being hauled out of Afghanistan will end up, but there’s a chance police will get a bunch of it based on how DOD has handled excess matériel from previous drawdowns.


While the US continues to struggle relocating Afghan interpreters, the removal of military gear from the country appears to be going just fine. CENTCOM reported yesterday that “984 C-17 loads of material” (= a lot, C-17s are massive cargo planes; I’d have chosen a different metric) has been moved out of Afghanistan since Biden’s decision to withdraw. Of that, 17,074 pieces of equipment were declared “excess” and sent to “the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition.”

“Disposition” is not the same as “destruction” but media outlets like The Hill and NBC have been equating the two. It’s true that some equipment might be destroyed by DLA Disposition Services—the DOD agency that manages the property the military says it doesn’t need anymore—but destruction is the least likely outcome for most of this stuff based on DOD procedures.

What happens when the military decides it doesn’t need something anymore

Once one of the military services or a DOD agency decides they don’t need a piece of equipment anymore, they label it as ‘excess’ and send it to DLA Disposition Services. From there, the equipment is reused, transferred, donated, sold, or destroyed.

Destruction is presented as an option only after all other means are exhausted. Reusing the equipment is DLA’s preference. That either means cycling excess equipment back into one of the services or giving it to a designated ‘special program.’ The 1033 program is one of those ‘special programs.’ This means that after the military services, police are among the first to be able to request ‘excess’ military gear. Close to 90 percent* of the equipment that enters the process express below goes back into DOD or to special programs (*via GAO-16-44).

Are military drawdowns abroad linked to upturns in 1033 transfers at home?

Based on available DOD data, it looks like it (I’m not the first person to point this out). Here are two graphs. Taken together, they show (crudely) that as the US military withdrew from Iraq, 1033 transfers increased. 

Military budgets, which skyrocketed during this time, also contribute to an excess of ‘excess’ equipment. But we know drawdowns are relevant by looking at the flow of MRAPs—military vehicles produced en masse to protect US troops against rampant IED attacks in Iraq (and Afghanistan)—through the 1033 program. It generally follows the same pattern as the chart immediately above, i.e., its correlation with the Iraq drawdown).


Biden’s drawdown is certainly less significant from a manpower perspective than what’s shown above, so maybe that will be reflected in the amount of excess equipment, too. That’d be nice. Also, there’s no word yet from CENTCOM regarding what equipment exactly is at play here nor which DLA facility it’s ultimately headed to. So there’s a lot of uncertainty here (which isn’t helped by the lack of DOD/DLA transparency or accountability re: 1033 or in general).

But we do know that most DLA facilities are in the US and that police are priority recipients of excess military gear. We also know that there aren’t any safeguards in place to prevent police from receiving weapons shipped back from Afghanistan or anywhere else. So if you were looking for an excuse to bring up the 1033 program again to the Biden administration or to Congress or to your local reps, the Afghanistan drawdown provides more than enough reason to do so.

Thanks for your time,

Stephen (@stephensemler; stephen@securityreform.org)

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