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Government Motors: Afghanistan edition; U.S. wastes millions on Afghan autos

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Just like GM, the U.S. government has decided to give millions to another part of the auto industry — only this time it's in Afghanistan.

In fact, a U.S.-led international group spent $230 million on spare vehicle parts for the Afghan National Army and other security agencies — then lost them.

Not knowing where the parts were, the group ordered up an additional $138 million in parts a watchdog said likely aren't needed and some of which are now sitting in warehouses with boxes stacked to the ceiling.

"The Combined Security Transition Command (CSTC-A) is placing orders for vehicle spare parts without accurate information on what parts are needed or are already in stock," says a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the top U.S. watchdog there.

Without a full inventory of what parts are already available, the agency can't justify why it's purchasing new equipment, the special inspector general said, adding that little record has been kept of what parts are most in-demand or needed in specific parts of the country.

CSTC-A is a U.S.-led international coalition whose job is to help train Afghan security forces. It's currently commanded by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo. Officials said they would stop purchasing all nonessential vehicle parts until a comprehensive inventory can be completed.

On paper, the office has been gradually reducing the number of parts it says it needs, from 3,843 in 2011 down to 576 this year. But investigators said the office still spent $130 million purchasing thousands of parts that likely won't be needed.

Worse, U.S. officials couldn't be sure the parts were going to help their intended target. They could only confirm that 10 percent of the parts were being transferred to the Afghan army.

"CSTC-A cannot provide documentation confirming delivery or title transfer to the [Afghan army] for vehicle spare parts delivered during 2010 through 2012," investigators said.

Unlike weapons or the vehicles themselves, the spare parts are being shipped directly to the Afghan military, without a transfer point that records the change in ownership.

U.S. officials have been relying on the Afghan army to confirm receipt of the components. But the special inspector general warned that the Afghan army itself is doing a poor job of tracking what parts it has in its inventory, where they are, and what additional supplies might be needed. Investigators said the central supply depot in Kabul was able to account for only about 45 percent of the parts under its jurisdiction.

"CSTC-A officials stated that some containers sit for up to one year in overflow lots until the [Afghan army] is ready to inventory them, leaving contents susceptible to theft," investigators said.

The Afghans are dealing with such a backlog that the planned delivery of $12 million worth of additional parts next year could easily be misplaced, the special inspector general warned.

In response to the report, U.S. officials have implemented new transfer points and documentation to ensure there is a record of the parts being handed over to the Afghan army. Investigators said "it is too soon to determine whether the new procedures will be effective."

Meanwhile, CSTC-A is planning to turn over purchasing power to the Afghans, a move investigators said could be premature.

"Giving the [Afghan army] more responsibility for tracking and shipping vehicle spare parts raises concerns, as [it] is not yet consistently using or updating its inventory to track what is currently in stock," the special inspector general said.

Since the beginning of combat operations in 2002, the U.S. has spent close to $100 billion on aid for rebuilding Afghanistan. But the special inspector general, headed by John Sopko, has repeatedly found examples of waste in the war-torn nation, including $1 billion on fees and taxes imposed by the local government and $190 million lost to a corrupt health system.

The parts are just the latest example of waste.

"While most individual vehicle spare parts are relatively inexpensive, total purchases of these parts have amounted to approximately $370 million between 2004 and 2012, much of which cannot now be accounted for," the special inspector general said.

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