Afghanistan Can’t Manage Billions in Aid, U.S. Inspector Finds

Billions of dollars in U.S. and international aid for Afghanistan’s security forces are at risk because the ministries that manage the money aren’t preventing waste and corruption, the Pentagon inspector general found.

“Future direct assistance funds are vulnerable to increased fraud and abuse” because the Afghan government has “had numerous contract award and execution irregularities” and procurement-law violations, according to an audit labeled “For Official Use Only.”

The Afghan National Security Forces remain dependent on U.S. and allied financing as foreign troops depart. The Pentagon has provided $3.3 billion in payments directly to Afghan ministries since October 2010, and an additional $13 billion in such direct military aid is projected through 2019, three years after President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw all but a small number of U.S. troops.

The Feb. 26 audit bolsters previous assessments by the separate office of John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, that the country’s Defense and Interior ministries aren’t ready to manage the funds going to the military and national police force without major U.S. help.

“The ministries did not adequately develop, award, execute or monitor contracts funded with U.S. direct assistance,” Michael Roark, assistant inspector inspector general for contract management, wrote to U.S. and allied commanders in a letter submitting the new audit.

Fuel Contract

In one case cited in the report, the Combined Security Transition Command of U.S. and allied forces refused to provide a $15 million, or 25 percent, increase to an Afghan Army fuel contract that was requested five days after a contract was awarded. The command called it a “possible vehicle for corruption,” according to the report.

The Afghan defense ministry also “significantly overestimated fuel requirements” for military vehicles, generators and power plants last year, according to the audit.

In another instance, an audit by the combined command concluded that the defense ministry “lacked controls to provide reasonable assurance it appropriately spent” $120.5 million of direct U.S. assistance for clothing, the inspector general’s report found.

‘Continued Dependence’

The audit criticized the transition command for inadequately training the ministries to manage U.S. assistance and instead doing the work itself, creating a “continued dependence.”

Officials with the command said “pressure to maintain hard-fought gains” on the battlefield “and not compromise” Afghan military operations’’ with poorly executed support contracts “resulted in the coalition overlooking ministerial shortcomings.”

The audit didn’t say what U.S. or allied entity was bringing such pressure to bear.

U.S. Army Major General Todd Semonite of the transition command, wrote Jan. 28 in a response to the audit that his organization will continue to withhold funds when necessary as leverage when documentation is suspect.

Semonite also said he was ordering new steps to improve capabilities, including imposing tighter temporary controls and hiring the Washington-based Oxus Consulting Group to work with the ministries.

“Improvement is expected in decision-making, procurement of goods and services and financial management,” Semonite wrote.

The command also is strengthening its program to train the Afghan military’s financial management personnel at the corps and regional headquarters level, he said.