WASHINGTON, June 28: A US government watchdog warned on Friday that the US Department of Defence was spending $771.8 million on the purchase of aircraft that the Afghans cannot operate and maintain.

In its latest report, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction office warned that the Afghans “lack the capacity—in both personnel numbers and expertise—to operate and maintain the existing and planned” aircraft the Pentagon buys for them.

The aircraft are meant for the Afghan Special Mission Wing, which is supposed to provide air support to official Afghan forces fighting the militants.

The report points out that as of Jan 23, 2013, the SMW had just 180 personnel—less than one-quarter needed to reach full strength. The Nato Training Mission-Afghanistan and the Pentagon do not have a plan that identifies milestones and final dates for achieving full SMW personnel force strength to justify the approved fleet.

On-going recruiting and training challenges have slowed SMW growth. These challenges include finding Afghan recruits who are literate and can pass the strict, 18- to 20-month US vetting process, a process that attempts to eliminate candidates that have associations with criminal or insurgent activity.

The report also notes that the Afghan Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior have not come to agreement on the command and control structure of the SMW, which also adversely impacts SMW growth and capacity.

The Pentagon also has not developed a plan for transferring maintenance and logistics management functions to the Afghans.

Currently, Pentagon contractors perform 50 per cent of the maintenance and repairs to the SMW’s current fleet of 30 Mi-17s and 70 per cent of critical maintenance and logistics management, as well as procurement of spare parts and material.

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