IG: DoD puts hundreds of millions of dollars at risk in Afghanistan

Tuesday - 7/2/2013, 5:01pm EDT

SIGAR's Elizabeth Field on "In Depth" with Francis Rose

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By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

Auditors are concerned the Defense Department's lack of a plan to train Afghan forces to manage and operate 48 aircraft is putting millions of dollars at risk.

Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Inspection Elizabeth Field said Monday on In Depth with Francis Rose that Afghanistan recruits cannot operate or maintain the aircraft for the Afghan Special Missions Wing (SMW).

"There are certain things that are in DoD's control and other things that are not. Unfortunately, they haven't had a plan that has set milestones for reaching basic capabilities or staffing up the air wing," said Field, who authored the recent report on the Pentagon's struggles. "Thankfully, DoD did concur with our recommendation that they create such a plan. It's still a bit troubling that this program started in July 2012, and we're now a year later and they're just now starting."

SMW is an air wing developed by DoD to aid Afghan Special Forces in counternarcotics and counterterrorism. SMW has minimal plans to complete the personnel force and measure their performance, the report said.

Afghan forces lack the capacity in both personnel and expertise to operate and maintain not only the existing SMW fleet, but also future aircraft, the report said. DoD recently awarded more than $700 million in contracts for new planes and helicopters.

As of January 2013, the wing had 180 people, less than a quarter of the required for total strength, the report said. The report also stated that as of Jan. 16, 2013, only seven of the 47 pilots assigned to SMW were fully qualified to fly with night vision goggles, a necessary skill for SMW missions.

Field said it is just as important for Afghans to have the ability to maintain aircraft as it is for them to be able to fly. The report stated that two DoD task orders that provide ongoing logistics and supply services to SMW do not identify performance metrics to ensure sufficient aircraft maintenance.

"We're not going to get down into the weeds and recommend specifically which metrics are most appropriate — that's not necessarily our job. We really wanted to just strengthen the internal controls and oversight mechanisms that DoD has in place," Field said.

The DoD unit also is struggling to recruit trainees, the report stated, as the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior have not reached an agreement on the command structure of the SMW. Field said that this is critical because the Afghan defense department will not allow recruitment from its ranks until an agreement is reached.

The wing looks to the Afghan defense department for recruits because it is difficult to find personnel in the area who are capable of performing the required duties and also can pass the 18-to-20 month vetting period, which is in place to ensure recruits do not have a criminal history, Singer said.

"I think it is largely outside of [DoD's] control and, in this sense, I am sympathetic with DoD because it's hard to identify trainees who are literate, not just in their native language but who can read and write in English as well, and it's hard to find individuals who can go through the 18-to-20 month vetting process," Field said.

Auditors recommended DoD's office of the Under Secretary of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics suspend activity under the new aircraft contracts until an agreement between the Defense and Interior ministries has been reached.

DoD said in formal comments on the report that contracts already had been awarded and the International Security Assistance Force is working with the Afghan government on a charter that would accomplish the same purpose as an agreement between MOI and MOD.

Field said DoD awarded the latest aircraft contract, worth $553.8 million to Rosoboronexport for 30 MI-17 helicopters, after the IG presented Pentagon officials with a draft of the report.

SIGAR also recommended DoD develop a plan for transferring maintenance and logistics management to Afghans, and modify task orders to incorporate performance metrics and quality assurance plans.

Field said signing an agreement of understanding between the Interior and Defense ministries and subsequently recruiting capable Afghan recruits must happen to mitigate DoD's challenges and risks.

"I know they're working closely with the Afghan government to try to overcome that challenge," Field said. "But it is a reality of doing business in that country."

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