WASHINGTON – The watchdog for U.S. spending in Afghanistan says lax accountability in a $1.1 billion program supplying fuel to the Afghan National Army needs “immediate attention” before control of the program is turned over to the Kabul government in less than four months.
There’s no proof the fuel is actually being used by Afghan security forces for their missions, meaning it’s not known how much fuel has been lost, stolen or diverted to the insurgency, according to a report released today by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction John F. Sopko.
The report is the latest bad news surrounding a key element of the U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan. Washington has spent billions of dollars on the international coalition’s effort to train and equip Afghan forces it hopes eventually will be able to fight the Taliban on their own.
The new report comes on top of growing questions about how recruits are vetted for the Afghan forces – questions prompted by a spike in insider attacks in which Afghan soldiers, police or impersonators have killed 45 international service members this year.
The report also found:
• An audit of the spending is being hampered because someone shredded financial records covering $475 million in fuel payments over more than four years and officials inexplicably couldn’t provide complete records for a fifth year.
• There is insufficient justification for the ever-ballooning budget requests for fuel that have been made by the command managing NATO’s mission to equip and train Afghan forces.
• Millions of dollars in the proposed funding should be cut until international forces figure out how many vehicles and generators the Afghan security forces are actually using and how much fuel is needed for those vehicles and for power plants.
U.S. defense and military officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the report contained written comments from commanders provided to the inspector general’s office that rejected the idea of reducing their budget and argued that accurate estimates of fuel use are not possible as the international coalition works to rapidly grow the Afghan forces.
Recently, 10,000 to 15,000 individuals have been recruited each month into the army and police forces, which are expanding from about 100,000 in 2007 to a goal of 352,000 next month.
The funding request for the program was $306 million this year and commanders said have said they need $466 million for budget year 2013 and $555 million for 2014 and beyond. Sopko urged capping the budget at $306 million until there is better justification for additional money.
In its written response, the international training mission said that would mean a 37 percent drop in combat operations, border patrols and other missions.
“Fuel consumption estimates for vehicle usage cannot be determined accurately … due to the continuing fielding of vehicles, power generation” and other equipment, the military’s written response said.
It said that as coalition forces withdraw and Afghans take on greater responsibility, the need will keep increasing.