The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has urged commanders in Afghanistan not to grant the Afghan government increased responsibility for fuel used by its security forces until questions about how the fuel is managed and accounted for are answered.
The recommendation by John F. Sopko came during testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he raised "serious concerns" about fuel oversight provided by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Sopko's organization, known by its acronym SIGAR, was created by Congress to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities.
“Last week, I testified before this subcommittee that SIGAR had serious concerns about how CSTC-A has managed and accounted for the fuel provided to the Afghan Army,” Sopko said. “Despite these problems, CSTC-A still plans to increase annual funding for the Afghan Army fuel by $212 million per year.”
Sopko also noted CSTC-A, which assists the Afghan government in generating and sustaining Afghan security forces, expects to move forward with a plan to transfer fuel responsibilities and funding to the Afghan Army.
“We believe there is no basis for either decision,” he said. “I continue to urge CSTC-A to halt its plan to increase fuel funding until it develops a better process for determining fuel needs, establishes a comprehensive action plan to improve fuel accountability and delay transferring fuel responsibilities and funding to the Afghan Army until the problems we have identified are fixed.”
Sopko said his investigation found that records has been destroyed as well as difficulties with providing documentation detailing the dispensation of fuel.
The investigation “identified and has started interviewing “individuals located in the United States, Afghanistan, United Kingdom and Belgium who were involved in this matter,” he said. “We have confirmed that shredding did indeed take place and have identified two Air Force officers who admitted to destroying documents covering the time periods of February 2010 to February 2011.”
These officers, Sopko said, obtained supervisory approval to shred the documents because they did not have adequate storage space, but claimed they were saved in electronic format.
“Our investigators are now working to locate those electronic records to review to see if they are actually the records in question,” he said. “In addition, just this Tuesday, CSTC-A provided our auditors in Kabul with a CD which they claim contains 97 percent of the documents we had requested for the time period of March 2011 to March 2012.”
The inspector general said CSTC-A ensured they would provide complete records for March 2011 to March 2012; however, a sampling provided revealed at least half of the documents were missing.
Auditors will “review this new disc to ascertain whether it contains complete and accurate copies of the records we requested,” Sopko told the lawmakers.
Meanwhile, “CSTC-A tells our auditors in Kabul that they have located additional hard copies of the records, including some prior to February 2010 which we intend to examine,” he added.
Sopko characterized CSTC-A’s handing of these records as “deeply troubling,” and noted it raises questions about their ability to perform such a “serious function.”
“It appears it has to take two congressional hearings, six months of [Inspector General] requests, an interim audit report, a management alert letter,” he said. “And my personal meeting with every single military official in Afghanistan before CSTC-A deigns to seriously take our request for records as something they should respond to.”
Sopko said following his initial testimony on Sept. 10, CSTC-A has revised their plan to transfer responsibilities to the Afghan government, in particular, changing the amount of funding it plans to provide directly to the Afghans from two-thirds of total funding to one-third, as well as the time frame.
“It appears … the Afghan Ministry of Defense has said they can't handle this new mission until March of 2013,” he said. “Although we think this is a good move to delay, we're surprised that apparently CSTC-A never talked to the Afghan ministry about this important function until subsequent to the hearing.”
“These developments indicate that CSTC-A is perhaps approaching the transition to Afghan-run logistics more cautiously than before,” he said, after noting they’ve struggled in the past with direct assistance.
Sopko noted providing direct assistance to the Afghan government is a critical part of transitioning reconstruction efforts to the Afghans.
“But moving forward with direct contributions, in face of the serious problems that CSTC-A itself has encountered in its fuel programs, reconfirms our belief that transferring funding responsibility in January is doubling down on a very risky bet,” he said.
Article by Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service