SIGAR wants Afghan aircraft deal delayed
The Pentagon was pursuing chopper purchases from the arms dealer for the Afghan special forces unit that could not fly or maintain the aircraft, the watchdog said in a report.
While asking the Pentagon to suspend the $553 million, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) called for putting in place plans to recruit and train the Afghan special forces unit.
It argued the Afghan Special Mission Wing's lacks of troops and skills to operate the equipment signified the helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft could be left sitting on runways, rather than supporting critical missions against terror and drugs.
A memorandum of understanding between the Afghan interior and defence ministries give the military control of the wing is yet to be finalised due to the former's resistance to surrendering authority over the wing.
By mid-2015, the wing was to recruit 806 personnel, but as of late January, it had just 180, the report said, warning of challenges in finding qualified Afghan who were literate in their own language, competent in English.
According to the organisation, the flow of Afghan trainees from helicopter flight training at Fort Rucker to more intense training in the Czech Republic had been slow and uneven.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, SIGAR John Sopko wrote: "We maintain that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is imprudent."
On June 17, the Pentagon announced awarding the $554 million contract for 30 Mi-17s for the Special Mission Wing to Rosoboronexport. The announcement came hard on the heels of the House approval of a 2014 defense policy bill that included a prohibition on contracts with the Russian company.
The SIGAR recommendations include linking acquisition and delivery of aircraft to key development milestones and enhancing Pentagon's oversight of critical functions.
"Despite our recommendations, the department awarded a $553,759,240 contract modification to Rosoboronexport, a Russian government agency, on June 16 for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support
services," Sopko said in the letter.
In his comments included in the report, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia said putting on hold aircraft purchases until the agreement was signed would unacceptably delay efforts to develop the wing into a capable force.
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