May 15, 2023

Warren, Sanders, Lee Call on Departments of Defense and State to Improve Tracking and Monitoring of U.S.-Origin Weapons

Failures in End-Use Monitoring of Weapons Undermines Efforts to Prevent Civilian Harm in Yemen and Other Countries 

Text of Letters (PDF)
DoD and State Responses to Senators’ September 2022 Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent letters to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State (State), raising serious concerns about failures of the Departments’ tracking and monitoring of U.S.-origin weapons, which undermines efforts to prevent and mitigate civilian harm resulting from U.S. military operations or caused by U.S.-origin weapons. The senators’ letter follows a September 2022 letter they sent to DoD and State to determine how U.S. military support and security assistance, including arms sales, has contributed to civilian harm in Yemen.

“We…have serious concerns about how DoD and the State Department track and monitor U.S.-origin weapons. The failure of DoD and State to properly do so stands in contradiction to U.S. values and our nation’s efforts to prevent and mitigate civilian harm,” wrote the senators. 

In the letter, the senators note the consistent pattern of U.S.-origin weapons in Yemen linked to misuse and civilian casualties. A 2019 investigation found that Saudi Arabia 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” and a 2023 report found that “air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, using weapons solely supplied by the UK and US, accounted for a quarter of all attacks” on civilians from January 2021 through February 2022, and that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in at least 87 civilian deaths and 136 civilian injuries during that time. 

“Despite these clear examples of the misuse of U.S.-origin weapons, DoD and State have not taken necessary action to pause or stop related foreign military sales. In its response to our December letter, DoD indicated that ‘since 2012, DOS has not notified DoD to pause, reduce, or cancel any FMS (Foreign Military Sale) cases or deliveries as a result of its investigations into reports that a foreign government used U.S.-origin defense articles for purposes other than those for which the items were furnished by the USG- (U.S. government).’ This raises serious questions about both the terms of end-user agreements the United States has with these countries, and DoD and DoS’s EUM (end-use monitoring) processes,” wrote the senators. 

The senators call out failures in State and DoD’s end-use monitoring programs, calling the term a “misnomer” since “they are not intended to address a partner nation’s operational use of transferred equipment.” “(DoD) is unable to monitor operational use of transferred weapons, writing it was ‘not feasible’ due to ‘the volume of transferred defense articles, the lack of DoD manning to support such a mission, lack of access to areas of hostilities, and the security risk to DoD Personnel.’ It is concerning that DoD is failing to properly keep up with the volume of defense articles that the U.S. is sending abroad. This, coupled with the 2022 GAO report on EUM (end-use monitoring) in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, indicates broader patterns of failures of the Golden Sentry Program,” wrote the senators. 

They also note that the Biden administration and State have the authority and a duty to prohibit arms sales to foreign countries using weapons for unauthorized purposes under the Arms Export Control Act and wide-ranging executive authority to cancel an FMS transaction prior to delivery. 

The senators welcomed DoD’s Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Plan (CHMR-AP) and the Biden administration’s February 2023 updated Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy, which outlined stricter conditions on arms transfers. “We request additional clarity on how the Administration plans to implement these important goals. We further expect that the Administration will choose to extend this policy consistently to all recipients of U.S. security assistance, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and beyond, and look forward to working with both the Defense and State Departments to ensure security assistance moving forward meets this higher level of scrutiny,” wrote the senators. 

Given these concerns, the senators are asking DoD and State to answer a set of questions about their end-use monitoring programs by June 5, 2023 and request a staff briefing on these programs by June 26, 2023. 

Senator Warren has led the call to hold the U.S. military accountable for harm to innocent civilians: 

  • In December 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, raising concerns that the Department of Defense’s (DoD) September 2022 report to Congress on civilian casualties appears to undercount civilian casualties from U.S. military operations and that DoD is not exercising its authority to make amends to civilian victims and survivors. 
  • In December 2022, Senator Warren announced priorities that she secured in the FY 2023 NDAA, including fundamentally reforming DoD's approach to preventing civilian harm by creating a Civilian Protection Center of Excellence to serve as a focal point for civilian casualty, providing s $25 million in dedicated resources to implement the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Plan being developed by DoD and reforms prescribed in the NDAA, and enhancing annual reporting on civilian harm. 
  • In September 2022, Senators Warren, Sanders, and Lee sent letters to DoD and the Department of State, calling on the Departments to thoroughly investigate how U.S. military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen may have led to civilian harm and analyze to the effectiveness of civilian harm reduction efforts by the Saudi and Emirati governments.
  • In August 2022, DoD released its Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan that was responsive to Senator Warren’s numerous proposals and calls for DoD to prioritize civilian harm prevention. 
  • In March 2022, Senator Warren and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the Pentagon calling on it to open investigations into instances of civilian harm from U.S. military operations in Yemen, after reports of dozens of deaths.
  • In April 2022, Senator Warren and Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Jacobs and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) announced two pieces of bicameral legislation that would overhaul the prevention, mitigation, reporting, and transparency of civilian harm caused by U.S. military operations, the Department of Defense Civilian Harm Transparency Act and the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act.
  • In February 2022, Senator Warren secured a commitment from LTG Michael Kurilla, nominee to be General and Commander of United States Central Command, to prioritize reforms to mitigate civilian casualties.
  • In January 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Khanna led almost 50 of their colleagues in a letter calling on President Biden to overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy after U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands of innocent civilians.
  • In January 2022, Senators Warren and Murphy and Representative Khanna released a statement in support of DoD’s directive to prevent civilian deaths
  • In November 2021, Senator Warren sent a letter to Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chairman of SASC, requesting that the Committee launch a formal inquiry to review the findings and implications of a New York Times report detailing how the U.S. military hid an airstrike in Baghuz, Syria that killed dozens of civilians.
  • Following the August 29, 2021, unmanned airstrike that killed ten civilians in Afghanistan, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna sent a letter to Secretary Austin to use the tragedy of civilian harm to look into the Pentagon’s history of accidentally targeting innocent civilians and significantly under-investigating and undercounting civilian casualties. 
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren and Representative Khanna sent a letter urging Secretary Austin to review why significant undercounts of civilian casualties persist and why DoD made zero ex gratia payments to grieving civilians last year despite authorization and funding from Congress.
  • In June 2020, Senator Warren and Representative Khanna introduced the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act, bicameral legislation that would enhance reporting on civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations, improve investigations into civilian casualties, and strengthen resources for the Department's policies and practices relating to civilian casualty prevention and responses.