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Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens to opening statements during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, April 12, 2018.
Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens to opening statements during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, April 12, 2018. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

The U.S. military’s top general told senators on Thursday that he was “shocked by the number” of Pentagon-owned weapons tallied as missing or stolen in a recent news report.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said service records submitted to him since The Associated Press published its report on Tuesday appear to contradict the news agency’s findings that at least 1,900 military weapons were lost or stolen during the 2010s. But Milley promised transparency to the senators as he further examines the issue.

“I've asked each of the services to go back and let's get the numbers, let's get the reports over to [Congress] to make sure that we can level set as to what's correct and incorrect,” Milley told the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing to consider the Pentagon’s $715 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022. “The reports I have from the services, as of this morning, are significantly less numbers than reported in the media.”

However, Milley admitted the number of lost or stolen firearms was far from zero, but claimed it was “much less” than the 1,900 reported and promised Congress “a firm answer.”

The general was responding to a question from Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., who expressed concern about the number of military weapons linked to crimes on American streets and questioned the Pentagon’s transparency on the issue.

She cited, as an example, the discovery of an AK-74 assault rifle — a Russian automatic weapon similar to the more famous AK-47 — by law enforcement in Fresno, Calif., during a 2019 domestic assault case. The weapon, which is illegal to possess in the United States, was one of 26 AK-74s stolen from Fort Irwin in southern California in 2011. Another stolen AK-74 was found in the possession of a felon in Fresno by federal agents in 2012, according to the Justice Department.

The stolen AK-74s were just some of the more than 1,900 military weapons that the AP revealed had been lost or stolen between 2010 and 2019, according to its own accounting of those missing weapons via reviews of government records. Some of those weapons were later linked to crimes, including the use of an Army Beretta M9 pistol in a series of 2018 shootings in New York even as service records showed that handgun was safely locked up at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The AP estimated the 1,900 missing firearms from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force was likely a low figure after spending a decade investigating the issue. AP reporters were at times provided “conflicting information” on missing weapons by the Army and defense officials regularly pushed back when asked for data, the news agency reported. The Air Force declined to release any data on the subject, the AP wrote.

Milley told Feinstein that the Pentagon takes weapons security “extremely seriously.” He promised full investigations via the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, and unit commanders, if weapons are found missing.

“If anyone is found negligent at all, they are relieved of their command or punished in some other way,” Milley said. “If there's a criminal involved, for example, you mentioned Fort Irwin — there were people arrested, prosecuted and are currently in jail, as a result of some of those weapons that you were talking about.”

Feinstein said she wanted to see the Pentagon’s numbers on stolen or missing weapons soon.

The general promised to provide greater detail to Congress quickly.

“There are weapons that we can't account for,” Milley said. “But, I can assure you that we take it extraordinarily seriously, and I owe you the exact numbers that we're getting, and I'll get to those very, very quickly.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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