If you are a jihadist or a rebel needing some military hardware, then you have two problems. Countries that would be very happy to buy the equipment for you, such as the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, do not want to be identified. It can also be trouble to get the supplies through, unless the mechanism can be hidden. Is there a solution? Step forward Silk Way Airlines, a state-run cargo airline based in Baku, Azerbaijan!
A fascinating report from a Bulgarian journalist, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, documents how Silk Way did more than 350 flights delivering hundreds of tons of weapons. The weapons were mainly from East European states, including Bulgaria and Slovakia, and also from Israel. The destinations were mainly into Iraq and Syria. Flights were given diplomatic status, so that the 'luggage' would not be checked or stopped, and the financiers of these operations were principally the US and Saudi Arabia, but also included the UAE (and, I would guess, other Gulf states too). A key country in which the weapons were unloaded for later shipment on to Syrian and Iraqi rebels was Turkey.
US military-related companies were often involved in the transport deals, but they were facilitating the delivery of non-US origin weapons - an advantage to cover up the US role. Bulgarian weapons were found by the journalist to have turned up in an Al Nusra Front (the Al Qaeda affiliate) arms cache in Aleppo, Syria, and the Iraqi army also uncovered an ISIS warehouse of these weapons in Mosul, Iraq.
Tracking such a supply network is difficult, but the observations are supported by documents and also by other corresponding sources. This was just one network, based mainly from Bulgaria and Azerbaijan; others will also be used by the various powers involved in this deadly game, including those from Libya.
Gaytandzhieva's report was filed on a Bulgarian newspaper site in early July. This led to protests from Azerbaijan and to her questioning by Bulgaria's security services. She was dismissed from her job a few days ago, according to her interview on Al Jazeera news network today, a report from which is here.*
Tony Norfield, 27 August 2017
Note: * Al Jazeera was happy to make a lot of this report since its focus directly implicated Saudi Arabia and the UAE in financing terror networks but had no mention of Qatar's role in such things.