Afghan troops accused of abusing contractors and confiscating equipment, US watchdog says
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 19, 2019
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan security forces have been harassing contractors and confiscating their equipment at military bases across the country, costing the U.S. hundreds of thousands of dollars, a government watchdog said.
The confiscated property and equipment, belonging to two international companies that were awarded maintenance and operations contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is worth more than $780,000, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report published Monday.
There were times when the Afghan employees of the contractor Exelis, Inc. — previously known as ITT Systems Corp. — tried to remove their equipment from work sites, but were “held against their will at gunpoint and locked in containers for extended hours” by Afghan forces, company officials told SIGAR.
Contractor staff were “often detained” by Afghan troops to force them to repair equipment that was outside the scope of contract requirements and wouldn’t release them until the equipment was fixed, the report said, citing USACE.
Exelis submitted more than 400 incident reports to USACE from across 800 facilities between 2011 and 2013 alone, the company told SIGAR. Of those, 71 regarded abuses, threat, intimidation, and confiscated property, USACE said.
SIGAR launched its investigation — which examined two contracts held by U.S.-based Exelis, covering a period from 2010 to 2015, and a third contract held by IDS International Government Services that began in 2015 and finishes this month — after complaints from USACE employees. The three contracts total more than $1 billion. IDS International is also a U.S.-based company.
The property and equipment confiscated from the contractors included a variety of items, such as batteries, exhaust fans, air conditioners and air and fuel filters, SIGAR said.
Most of the confiscated property has been reclaimed, USACE said, but the Army engineering command has paid over $325,000 to Exelis for items it could not recover at several sites. It’s still reviewing a payment for missing IDS property worth more than $450,000, SIGAR said.
Afghan forces “apparently believed they had the right to confiscate the equipment” as it was located on their bases, the watchdog said, adding that problems continue to plague the one remaining contract.
“The theft of contractor-owned property and verbal abuse and harassment of contractor staff by (Afghan forces) is still occurring despite actions taken by USACE and CSTC-A to address these issues,” SIGAR said. “Since the national maintenance contract is ongoing, it is possible that additional equipment may have been confiscated, resulting in further costs to the U.S. government.”
CSTC-A, or Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, is the primary liaison between the United States and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. It sets the requirements for both construction of ANDSF infrastructure and the operation and maintenance support to Afghan installations.
Despite repeated complains of abuse and theft, “CSTC-A has not issued any financial penalties against the ANDSF for stolen property or contractor mistreatment, reporting that it has not done so because withholding funds ‘harms ANDSF forces more than it would tend to change behavior,’” SIGAR said.
However, after learning of SIGAR’s findings, Maj. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, CSTC-A’s deputy commanding general, sent a letter warning Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdullah Habibi that if some of the missing property isn’t returned, the equivalent value will be deducted from the international assistance provided to the Afghan military. The U.S. and its allies provide about $4 billion to $5 billion each year to fund Afghanistan’s defense budget, much of it on Defense Department contracts to equip, train and maintain the security forces.