Argentina's Armed Forces have lost track of more than 400 firearms in the past two years, according to a government report, in evidence that military stockpiles may be feeding a regional arms bazaar.
The newspaper Clarin obtained a report which Chief of Staff Juan Manuel Abal Medina prepared for Argentina's Congress, highlighting the theft of arms from the army, air force, and navy. Among the weapons stolen from the air force and army were six Browning heavy machine guns, 154 FAL rifles (see picture), and 22 nine-millimeter pistols. According to Clarin, the report could not access statistics about weapon theft from naval stockpiles because it is treated as classified information.
In addition to the missing guns, more than 2,300 rounds of pistol and rifle ammunition have been stolen, as well as hundreds of various types of FAL rifle parts. Julian Obiglio, the opposition congressman who commissioned the report, said the weapons and stolen parts together could equip 428 riflemen.
In some cases, the arms were stolen by members of the military. Some were stolen in attacks by criminals on military facilities, though this was less common. According to the report, the army and the air force have responded to the loss of weapons with a variety of protective measures, including increased surprise inspections of armories and the creation of an army computer database intended to track the movement of weapons.
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While the destination of most of these weapons is still unclear, one rifle reported missing from a military arsenal turned up in early 2011 after a police raid in a Rio de Janeiro favela, according to another report by Clarin. These reports point to a level of corruption in Argentina's military, which is apparently bleeding weapons to criminal groups in neighboring countries, especially Brazil.
The fact that at least six heavy machine guns have gone missing from Argentine stockpiles raises particular concerns. These weapons fire armor-piercing .50 caliber rounds, and could increase the threat to local security forces, already out-gunned by some urban gangs in the region. During a 2009 crackdown by authorities following a turf war between Brazil's Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) and Red Command (CV) gangs, traffickers shot down a police helicopter, killing two crew members. Police later procured a bullet-proof helicopter, but a Browning heavy machine gun could pose a threat to even an armored helicopter.