U.S. Providing Aircraft That Afghans Can't Fly

Defense Department also awarded a $550 million contract to a Russian government agency that provides aircraft to Syria.

The United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on aircraft that Afghan Special Forces can't even fly.

According to a new report released Friday from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Defense Department is moving forward with the purchase of aircraft — valued at $772 million — that Afghan Special Mission Wing (SMW) pilots lack the numbers and expertise to operate.

And the numbers are quite damning. The SMW has less than a quarter of the personnel needed for full strength, operating with just 180 people. While the 47 SMW pilots are supposed to carry out counterterrorism operations, only seven of those pilots are qualified to fly with night-vision goggles. This skill is essential, given that most counterterrorism missions are done at night.

Despite all of this, the Defense Department purchased 48 new aircraft for the Afghan forces, awarding a $218 million contract to Sierra Nevada Corp. in October 2012 for 18 PC-12 fixed-wing planes and a $553.8 million contract to Rosoboronexport for 30 Mi-17 helicopters on June 16, 2013. Rosoboronexport is an agency of the Russian government, which also provides military weaponry to the Assad regime in Syria.

Furthermore, the aircraft needs maintenance and repair. Defense Department contractors were performing a majority of the repairs on the SMW's Mi17 helicopters.

With all of the money the U.S. is pumping into the program, it doesn't seem that the Afghan forces have set any target date to reach their full capacity to use the provided aircraft, the Defense Department watchdog found. The SMW needs a proper command structure and DOD lacks proper oversight for these programs.

"We maintain that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is imprudent," Inspector General John Sopko wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In order to improve their numbers, the Afghan military must find recruits who are literate and pass a U.S. vetting process that lasts 18 to 20 months, which attempts to find any infiltrated insurgents. These so-called green-on-blue have claimed the lives of dozens of U.S. troops. In 2012, 64 NATO troops were killed by attacks where insurgents dressed as Afghan military have opened fire on U.S. and NATO forces.

Time is running out for the Afghan military to solve lingering problems before U.S. forces depart for good. American troops are set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and the U.S. has already transferred day-to-day combat responsibility to the Afghans.

All images provided by SIGAR