Follow-through on keeping armored personnel carriers for the Afghan Army rapid strike battalions equipped and ready has been lacking, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction said in a report issued Tuesday. (Textron)
WASHINGTON — A specially trained and equipped Afghan Army quick reaction force is in danger of having its vehicles fall into disrepair, and its soldiers miss out on training due to an inability to supply much-need spare parts and training, a Congressionally-mandated watchdog organization has found.
A total of 634 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles — a version of Textron Marine and Land Systems’ M1117 armored security vehicle also being used by US, Canadian, Colombian and Bulgarian forces — have been delivered at a cost of $663 million, and hundreds of Afghan soldiers have already received specialized training on the vehicles and in quick reaction tactics. But follow-through on keeping those units equipped and ready has been lacking, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction said in a report issued Tuesday.
The seven Mobile Strike Force Afghan Army kandaks, each of which is roughly the size of a battalion, have been deployed to strategic spots throughout the country, with two brigades, the 1st Brigade in Kabul containing four kandaks and 2nd Brigade in Kandahar containing three kandaks, have been outfitted with the vehicles.
The ability of Afghan forces to sustain themselves without NATO help has long been a cause for concern, and with U.S. and NATO forces drastically reducing their footprint there over the next two years, getting the Afghans to the point where they can offer timely support to their units in the field is becoming a race against the clock.
The SIGAR report released this morning found that Textron — the U.S. contractor who built the vehicles and trains and supports their operational use — has “performed well under its contract” but has run into problems in getting spare parts to depots outside of Kabul.
The American inspectors found that brigades equipped with the vehicles have “faced delays in receiving their full complement of spare parts with only one of the three kandaks outside of Kabul receiving parts after exhausting its 60-day supply of initial spare parts.”
Textron, “through no fault of its own,” has been unable to ship spare parts in part because U.S. forces have been unable to provide personnel to provide the security it was promised under its contract. “Similarly, DoD has not had adequate oversight personnel available to verify that Textron is adhering to contract requirements when conducting work at ANA brigades and kandaks” the inspectors report.
The idea behind setting up the special kandaks — two of which are special forces — with the speed and firepower to respond to crises quickly was to provide the Kabul government with additional options in the face of fast-moving and unpredictable threats.
The vehicle’s infantry variant comes equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and 50mm machine gun in the manned turret.
American and NATO officials have long been concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to supply its units, and an October 2013 SIGAR audit found that while the Combined Security Transition Command purchased about $370 million in spare parts for the ANA’s vehicles between 2004 and 2013, the command “could not account for about $230 million worth of spare parts and had ordered $138 million of additional parts without sufficient accountability.”
The money is only a small percentage of the $55 billion the U.S. has spent so far equipping and training the Afghan security forces.
The latest report offered another alarming assessment. When SIGAR inspectors took stock of the Mobile Strike Force program in January, coalition advisers at the 3rd kandak in Kandahar told them that “most of the kandak’s replacements did not have any training, resulting in lower mission capable rates for the kandak.” The advisers worked around the problem to create a new training program to address the issue, but the inspectors warn that “there are no similar programs at other kandaks. We requested information on MSF attrition and operational readiness, but this information is not maintained by the brigades, kandaks, or [NATO].”
The simple task of ordering spare parts is fraught with difficulty, the inspectors found.
A request for spare parts “requires multiple approvals, which creates administrative backlogs” they report. The Afghan Army also insists on using paper instead of computerized records, and low literacy rates also hampers efforts.