The U.S. Army has been slow to investigate hundreds of millions of dollars in missing weapons systems, vehicles, electronics and communications gear in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
The Army field support brigade in Afghanistan responsible for managing gear being shipped out of the country failed to report “in a timely manner” 156,000 pieces of unaccounted gear valued at as much as $419.5 million, according to a report labeled “For Official Use Only” that reviewed major lost- property reports from fiscal 2013.
The items that need to be tracked include “thousands of pieces of highly sensitive equipment, including encryption devices, radios and weapons,” according to the report.
The report citing lax oversight underscored the logistics challenge as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The Pentagon has estimated that it may spend $7 billion on the effort, including shipping out equipment that’s supposed to be returned to the U.S. for refurbishment or reissued to other American units worldwide.
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The Army alone had an inventory of about $27 billion in military hardware in Afghanistan. As of Sept. 30, there were 35 U.S. bases and outposts, down from 850 in 2012. The U.S. plans to draw down its forces in the country to 9,800 by Jan. 1 from about 19,650 currently, with further reductions after that.
Some of the missing gear eventually may turn up as the U.S. completes the bulk of its withdrawal, Army officials said in a response to the inspector general. Yet with the closing of 309 bases since 2010, “only a fraction of the items” from previous reviews of unaccounted property has been recovered, according to the audit dated Oct. 30. The primary storage yards for “redistribution” are at Bagram and Kandahar.
“Due to the significant delays in reporting inventory losses” the Army’s Rock Island, Illinois-based Sustainment Command, which oversees the effort, “does not have accurate accountability and visibility of its property” at the yards, said Michael Roark, assistant inspector general for contract management, who signed the report. The command must have “total equipment accountability” in order “to properly execute the drawdown,” he said.
“There is a risk that missing property will not be recovered” and “no one was held financially responsible for the property losses or accountable for missing reporting deadlines,” the report found.
The audit disclosed that from 2006 to 2010 the Army lost track of 174,247 pieces of equipment. After lost-property reports were completed, 23 percent eventually were found, leaving 133,557 lost items valued at $238.4 million.
The audit praised Army officials for acknowledging during the review that improvements are needed as they “immediately acted upon our suggestions and resolved several of the concerns identified. We commend their efforts.”
Major General Darrell Williams, who heads the Army’s 1st Sustainment Command, said in a six-page letter included in the report that his organization “is aware of the issues developed over an extended period of time” and “continues to actively work with strategic commands to improve property management.”
Among the lessons learned during the audit was the need to “employ more experienced personnel to fill positions such as property book officers.” and “responsible officers to manage the massive property requirements in theater,” Williams wrote.