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Audit: Afghan Forces Robbed Native U.S. Contractors of $780K in Property, Equipment

TOPSHOT - Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand to attention during a ceremony at the military base in Herat on July 3, 2016. Around 1000 soldiers trained for 10 weeks during the ANA training progam, after which they are sent on assignments throughout the restive country. / AFP / AREF …
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
EDWIN MORA

Some members of the United States-funded and trained Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) reportedly terrorized and robbed local Afghan personnel hired under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) contracts of nearly $1 million in property and equipment between 2010 and March of this year. ANDSF sometimes detained the victims at gunpoint when they attempted to recover their stolen goods, an American watchdog agency reported recently.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that the U.S.-NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan “has not issued any financial penalties against the ANDSF” for the abuse of the native personnel working under American contracts because withholding funds “harms ANDSF forces more than it would tend to change behavior” of the corrupt security forces.

SIGAR has long reported that corruption is endemic in Afghanistan, affecting all levels of government — including the ANDSF, which includes military and police units.

John Sopko, the SIGAR chief, recently linked the Afghan security forces to the lucrative multi-billion dollar trade of opium, the main ingredient in heroin — some of which is fueling the unprecedented number of fatal drug overdoses in the United States.

The SIGAR audit covers three USACE contracts for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of ANDSF facilities across war-ravaged Afghanistan, with a total value of about $1.14 billion. Two of the deals ran from two 2010 to 2015, while the third lasted from 2015 to March 2019.

SIGAR revealed this month:

Our review of USACE data found that ANDSF personnel had confiscated more than $780,000 in property and equipment intended to support O&M at ANDSF facilities since the start of the O&M contracts.

USACE told us that it has been able to help the contractor reclaim stolen property in the majority of instances in which theft occurred, USACE has paid over $325,000 to compensate the contractor of the two completed contracts for confiscated property that it could not recover at six sites … USACE reported that it is in the process of reviewing documentation to support payment to the current O&M contractor for 16 sites in which USACE was unable to reclaim the contractor’s property in the amount of $454,900.

According to USACE, ANDSF personnel confiscated this equipment despite the provision of approximately $1,302,800 in excess spare parts and equipment provided to the ANDSF to support its O&M efforts for the two completed Exelis contracts.

Among the $780,000 in inventory confiscated by the ANDSF are “tools, such as drills, oxygen regulators, welding machines, saws, as well as office supplies including computers, a printer, an air conditioner, and refrigerators, among other things.”

Often, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was “unable to convince” the Afghan security forces to return stolen property and equipment, SIGAR found.

When the native Afghan contractor workers attempted to recover their equipment from the armed ANDSF, they were “held against their will at gunpoint and locked in containers for extended hours,” a representative from the contractor Exelis told SIGAR.

The watchdog further explained:

ANDSF mistreated or abused contractor staff, and had reportedly detained staff against their will and threatened or intimidated them into completing work that was outside the scope of the O&M contract requirements.

Between August 2011 and November 2013, USACE identified 296 serious incident reports (SIRs) reported across approximately 500 supported ANDSF sites that the O&M contractor filed with USACE.

Of this total 71 regarded abuses, threats, intimidation, and confiscated property. According to USACE officials we spoke with, USACE takes steps to address these SIRS and prevent contractor mistreatment and theft, however, USACE reported that it does not have an official system in place to record actions it has taken to resolve incidents reported by contractor staff.

SIGAR recommended that USACE implement a system to track actions to resolve serious incidents.

Between July 2010 and the end of 2013, Exelis submitted more than 400 serious incident reports from across 800 facilities in Afghanistan to the USACE.

Although the U.S.-NATO troops adopted a “financial levers” strategy in 2014 to use the suspension of American taxpayer funds as an incentive to change the corrupt behavior within the Afghan government, the international troops did not issue “any financial penalties against the ANDSF for stolen property or contractor mistreatment.”

U.S.-NATO troops believe “withholding of funding is not an effective tool to change behavior as there is limited ability to tie withheld funds back to the bad actors,” SIGAR reported.

“In March 2018 [U.S.-NATO troops] told us that current counter-corruption efforts have begun showing results in identifying, targeting, and prosecuting bad actors across the ANDSF,” it added. “We did not assess whether [U.S.-NATO troops] efforts have been successful in reducing issues of ANDSF non-compliance.”

According to the latest SIGAR report to Congress, the United States has invested more than $132 billion for reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan since the war began in October 2001. The SIGAR chief estimated in July 2018 that the United States had wasted at least $15 billion during that period.

Overall, the United States has devoted tremendous blood and treasure to the ongoing war — $1 trillion, 2,278 U.S. military fatalities, and 20,431 injuries.

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