October 18, 2021

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Afghanistan Security: Lack of Systematic Tracking Raises Significant Accountability Concerns about Weapons Provided to Afghan National Security Forces

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<div>The Department of Defense (Defense), through its Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) and with the Department of State (State), directs international efforts to train and equip Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). As part of these efforts, the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) and the Navy spent about $120 million to procure small arms and light weapons for ANSF. International donors also provided weapons. GAO analyzed whether Defense can account for these weapons and ensure ANSF can safeguard and account for them. GAO reviewed Defense and State documents on accountability procedures, reviewed contractor reports on ANSF training, met with U.S. and Afghan officials, observed accountability practices, analyzed inventory records, and attempted to locate a random sample of weapons.Defense did not establishclear guidance for U.S. personnel to follow when obtaining, transporting, and storing weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces, resulting in significant lapses in accountability. While Defense has accountability requirements for its own weapons, including serial number tracking and routine inventories, it did not clearly specify whether they applied to ANSF weapons under U.S. control. GAO estimates USASAC and CSTC-A did not maintain complete records for about 87,000, or 36 percent, of the 242,000 U.S.-procured weapons shipped to Afghanistan. For about 46,000 weapons, USASAC could not provide serial numbers, and GAO estimates CSTC-A did not maintain records on the location or disposition of about 41,000 weapons with recorded serial numbers. CSTC-A also did not maintain reliable records for about 135,000 weapons it obtained for ANSF from 21 other countries. Accountability lapses occurred throughout the supply chain and were primarily due to a lack of clear direction and staffing shortages. During our review, CSTC-A began correcting some shortcomings, but indicated that its continuation of these efforts depends on staffing and other factors. Despite CSTC-A's training efforts, ANSF units cannot fully safeguard and account for weapons and sensitive equipment. Defense and State have deployed hundreds of trainers and mentors to help ANSF establish accountability practices. CSTC-A's policy is not to issue equipment without verifying that appropriate supply and accountability procedures are in place. Although CSTC-A has not consistently assessed ANSF units' ability to account for weapons, mentors have reported major accountability weaknesses, which CSTC-A officials and mentors attribute to a variety of cultural and institutional problems, including illiteracy, corruption, and unclear guidance. Further, CSTC-A did not begin monitoring the end use of sensitive night vision devices until 15 months after issuing them to Afghan National Army units.</div>
Department of Defense To help ensure that the United States can account for weapons that it procures or receives from international donors for ANSF, the Secretary of Defense should establish clear accountability procedures for weapons in the control and custody of the United States, and direct USASAC, CSTC-A, and other military organizations involved in providing these weapons to (1) track all weapons by serial number and (2) conduct routine physical inventories.

Closed – Implemented

In its comments on this report, the Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation. In response, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs directed the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to develop a registration and monitoring system for defense articles transferred to Afghanistan with the same criteria required by Section 1228 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 for Iraq. Also, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs directed the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in conjunction with U.S. Central Command and the military departments, to implement controls that include the registration of serial numbers for small arms and the maintenance of detailed record of the origin, shipping, and distribution of all defense articles. Finally, in March 2009, the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) published a weapons accountability standard operating procedure and an order that directed all mentors to help ensure that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) conduct monthly 100% inventories of all weapons and assist the ANSF to account for, control, and physically secure weapons by serial number. The order also directed the mentors to personally conduct their own 10% monthly inventories of ANSF weapons.

Department of Defense To help ensure that ANSF units can safeguard and account for weapons and other sensitive equipment they receive from the United States and international donors, the Secretary of Defense should direct CSTC-A to (1) specifically and systematically assess the ability of each ANSF unit to safeguard and account for weapons in accordance with Afghan ministerial decrees and (2) explicitly verify that adequate safeguards and accountability procedures are in place, prior to providing weapons to ANSF units, unless a specific waiver or exception is granted based on due consideration of practicality, cost, and mission performance.

Closed – Implemented

The Department of Defense took a number of actions in response to the GAO recommendation. First, CSTC-A modified its assessments of Afghan National Army units’ readiness to include a determination of whether key elements of weapons accountability are in place at each unit, including establishment of a property book and 100 percent inventory by serial number. In addition, to ensure that adequate safeguards and accountability are in place at all units receiving weapons, CSTC-A published a weapons accountability standard operating procedure and an order that directed mentors to help ensure that ANSF units conduct monthly 100% inventories of all weapons and assist the ANSF to account for, control, and physically secure weapons by serial number. The order also directed the mentors to personally conduct their own 10% monthly inventories of ANSF weapons.

Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should devote the necessary resources to address the staffing shortages that hamper CSTC-A’s efforts to train, mentor, and assess ANSF in equipment accountability matters.

Closed – Implemented

DOD concurred with this recommendation and indicated that it was looking for ways to address these shortages. The Defense Office of Inspector General (OIG) subsequently conducted an assessment in 2009 to review, among other things, the status of corrective actions initiated in response to previous OIG and GAO reports on munitions accountability, During its assessment, the OIG also found problems with the overall effort to mentor ANSF forces in weapons accountability and recommended that the Commander, U.S. Forces, direct international mentors to assist with this effort. According to the OIG’s September 2009 report on this assessment, CSTC-A acted in response to GAO and OIG findings and, in June 2009, coordinated its guidance with that of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which directed its own mentoring teams to conduct monthly one hundred percent serial number inventories of all weapons and assist the ANSF in efforts to account for, control, and physically secure weapons. Thus, CSTCA has leveraged additional mentoring resources to expand efforts to train, mentor, and assess ANSF in equipment accountability matters by coordinating guidance with ISAF. In addition, in a letter dated April 17, 2009, DOD stated that the President had ordered the addition of another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan (bringing the total to more than 21,000) for the primary purpose of training Afghan security forces. (In GAO-09-280, we recommended that the Secretaries of Defense and State undertake a coordinated effort to provide dedicated personnel to support the creation of additional police mentor teams, as summarized in GAO-09-2456A.) More recently, in April 2010, DOD informed the Congress that (1) the United States has actively engaged it allies and partners to contribute forces to fill requirements for trainers and mentors, (2) DOD is coordinating an interagency plan to find foreign non-NATO mentors and trainers, (3) CSTC-A and the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan have established a Combined Training Advisory Group to help mentor and train a newly created Police Training Command, and (4) the United States has identified short-term solutions to the most critical trainer shortages.

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