Washington, DC February 22, 2019 – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday sent a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting information on the suspected retransfer of American weapons from foreign governments to suspected terrorists, armed militias, and other unauthorized third-party, non-state actors.
Senator Warren’s letter follows a recent investigation by CNN, which found that “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States.” The investigation also reported that some “weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America’s sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.”
In her letter, Senator Warren expressed concern about the report and noted that foreign governments receiving weapons and other defense articles from the United States are subject to agreements that prohibit the retransfer of those weapons to third parties without prior authorization. The senator also cited public testimony this month by the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he stated that the Department of Defense has mechanisms to monitor and enforce end user restrictions and “has not authorized Saudi Arabia or the Emirates to retransfer any of this equipment to other parties on the ground in Yemen.”
“Ensuring that foreign governments do not divert American weapons to third parties is an important and necessary way to hold allies and partners accountable and protect U.S. national security,” wrote Senator Warren. “If this report is true, it raises serious concerns that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other governments may have violated their end user agreements with the United States by diverting American weapons to terrorists and other violent extremists without prior authorization from the U.S. government.”
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To address her concerns about the potential national security threat posed by these unauthorized weapons retransfers, the senator asked Acting Secretary Shanahan and Secretary Pompeo to answer a series of detailed questions about the United States’ oversight of weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other foreign governments and its ability to track these weapons and enforce restrictions on their transfer to unauthorized third parties. The senator requested unclassified answers to her questions by March 8, 2019.
Senator Warren has been an outspoken critic of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. She has rigorously questioned our military commanders about the United States’ ability to track the outcomes of bombing missions carried out by U.S.-armed coalition warplanes, urged the United States to immediately end its involvement in the Yemen war, and cosponsored bipartisan legislation to require that outcome.