DoD Spent Hundreds of Millions on Air Transport in Afghanistan -- But Didn't Ask Allies for Repayment

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A contract helicopter comes in for a landing in Afghanistan.
A contract helicopter comes in for a landing on a mountain-top helicopter landing zone in northern Kunar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2012. (U.S. Army/ Maj. Christopher Thomas)

The Defense Department lost out on an unknown amount in reimbursement costs by failing to ask coalition partners to repay the United States for air transportation in Afghanistan over a three-year period, an audit found this month.

And because U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Multinational Logistics failed to collect or track flight data on how much coalition partners used these contracted rotary-wing air transportation services, the exact cost of what partners owe may never be known, the DoD's inspector general said in an audit dated March 22.

From September 2017 through September 2020, the U.S. military paid $773 million for air transportation provided to U.S. personnel and other coalition partners, the audit found. The contract helicopters are used to move personnel, cargo or both between bases in Afghanistan.

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The audit said there are 17 "pay-to-play" coalition partner nations, such as Australia, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, which reimburse the Pentagon for logistics support, supplies and services. Another 21 nations, known as "lift and sustain" coalition partners and including Poland, Romania and Ukraine, have their logistics tab picked up by the United States, because they otherwise would not be able to take part in the Afghanistan mission.

Under these kinds of arrangements, called Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements, the Pentagon acquires or provides logistics support, supplies and services in exchange for reimbursement from a foreign country. The military then is supposed to record details, terms and conditions on order forms, to be entered into an automated tracking and reporting system.

But that didn't happen. The U.S. failed to obtain flight data, determine per-person rates for the cost of each flight or set up an agreement with coalition partners for reimbursement costs and billing methods before providing the air transportation services, the IG said. The U.S. Army Central, or ARCENT, Logistics Directorate didn't have controls in place to make sure orders were entered into that automated reporting system, the report said.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan agreed with the IG's recommendation to take all those steps in the future, to make sure the military can be reimbursed for future air transportation costs. The military also plans to collect a monthly report of air transportation services and bill "pay-to-play" coalition partners, beginning in the second quarter of fiscal 2021, the report said.

ARCENT also agreed to set up internal controls, including monthly reviews of its tracking system's transactions to make sure billing is taking place at the correct rate.

U.S. Transportation Command awarded three fixed-price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts for these services in May 2017. The base contracts, which are set to end this August, originally were valued at about $485 million, but the actual amount increased as option years were exercised, the report said.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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