- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2014

A government oversight agency says the Pentagon has lost track of more than 40 percent of the firearms it has provided to Afghanistan’s security forces, prompting officials to contemplate a “carrot and stick” approach to arming the fledgling military.

A Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report scheduled to be made public Monday says the Pentagon’s two primary information systems that track weapons sent to Afghanistan — the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database and the Security Cooperation Information Portal — are rife with errors.

Although the oversight agency cannot say at this point whether any of the arms have made their way into neighboring countries such as Pakistan, the flawed tracking methods are fostering fears that militants could gain control of Pentagon-supplied weapons.

Jeffrey Brown, senior audit manager for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said those weapons could very well “go on the black market and enter another country.”

“We have no evidence that it has,” he said. “But that wasn’t really in the scope of our audit.”

Over the past decade, the Pentagon has provided what the report describes as more than 747,000 weapons and auxiliary equipment to the Afghan National Security Forces at a cost of $626 million. Small arms, such as rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers and shotguns, account for the majority of those weapons.

Of the 474,823 serial numbers recorded in the oversight database, 203,888 of those numbers — or about 43 percent — had missing or duplicate information, according to data collected by auditors. Auditors discovered in the course of their research that 24,520 serial numbers were repeated in the database, often more than once, and that no shipping or receiving dates were attached to 50,304 serial numbers.

A multinational military formation known as Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is supposed to be overseeing the delivery and transfer of the weapons to security forces. Data collected by auditors, however, shows that security command has fallen short of accountability requirements.

Equally concerning to the auditors is that firearms tracking methods employed by Afghanistan’s security forces are based on a combination of hard-copy documents, handwritten records and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which sometimes are not entered into the system correctly, the report says.

In a response to the report, Michael J. Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, said a move underway to consolidate records in the two computer systems will identify discrepancies and allow the Pentagon to keep better track of weapons sent to Afghanistan within the inspector general’s proposed six-month window.

Mr. Dumont said in the response that to combat the potential threat of U.S.-supplied guns ending up in the hands of enemies, the Pentagon is considering making transfers of firearms to Afghan security forces contingent on periodic Afghan-performed inventory checks.

Ryan Coles, one of the government oversight auditors who compiled the report, said that one of the only methods the Pentagon has for ensuring its weapons deliveries do not fall into the hands of insurgents is to require Afghan security forces to improve their inventory systems.

“It’s kind of the only carrot we’ve got to hold over the Afghan government right now,” Mr. Coles said.

However, national security analyst Michael Kugelman said that employing the “carrot and stick” accountability method at such a crucial point would be demoralizing and “send a very loud message to the Afghans” that the U.S. military does not trust them.

“It would be bad from an operational perspective because you want — you need — the Afghans to be well-armed,” said Mr. Kugelman, a senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

More important, the timing is not right to apply such an accountability method, Mr. Kugelman said.”There’s a lot of concern within Afghanistan that essentially we’re abandoning them to their fate,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Kugelman said, if the Pentagon does not resolve issues with its tracking system in the near future, weapons could end up in the hands of Afghan warlords or make their way to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Even though the U.S. has a good security relationship with Afghanistan, “we do have to worry that there are quite a number of members of the Afghan security forces that would be willing to share these weapons with people they should not be shared with,” he said.

Resolving the problem will not be easy, Mr. Coles said, because the “mishmash of incomplete records” stems back to 2004. The Pentagon has been maintaining better records since 2010, complete with serial numbers of weapons, but the system still has issues, he said.

“The department has made an honest effort to take corrective actions, but they’re dealing with an awfully big problem to solve, given how much was done before 2010,” he said.

Mr. Coles said the issues must be addressed soon. The number of Afghan security forces is expected to decline after the U.S. military pulls out its remaining troops, which could result in an excess of weapons, Mr. Coles said.

“All we’re asking DOD to do is to work with the Afghan government to determine some sort of process to either destroy, demilitarize or otherwise recover excess weapons when the requirements start going down,” he said.

Mr. Dumont, in his response to the report, said the Defense Department does not have the authority to compel Afghan forces to conduct inventory checks of weapons or to recover or destroy weapons that have been given to them. But he said the agency would work toward helping Afghans determine whether they have excess weapons and identify ways to dispose of them.