A declassified audit of a major anti-terrorism program recently made headlines after Amnesty International reported that the Army had “failed to keep tabs” on receipts for over $1 billion worth of military equipment in 2016. Amnesty obtained the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD IG) audit through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The DoD OIG audit detailed (or rather, did not detail) over $1 billion worth of lost receipts for military equipment for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), an effort authorized by Congress in the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This Fund is part of the larger Operation Inherent Resolve, which was formed in 2014 to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIL in Syria and Iraq. The NDAA had allocated over $2.3 billion for the DoD to provide a broad range of assistance to the Iraqi government, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and tribal forces to defend “Iraq, its people, allies, and partner nations” by reclaiming lost territory. The equipment, which ranged from Kevlar helmets to mine resistant vehicles, was intended to arrive in Iraq and Kuwait in order to support military operations fighting ISIL.
According to the audit, the DoD failed to completely process the equipment’s journey from the United States to Iraq and Kuwait, leaving the Army without “accurate, up-to-date records on the quantity and location of ITEF equipment in Kuwait and Iraq.” This is partly because the Army’s 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), the officials leading the effort, did not use a centralized database to account for ITEF equipment. Instead, Army officers used multiple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to record the quantity and dollar value of equipment shipped to Iraq. At each US military site, different officers “maintained their own spreadsheet” to track equipment being transferred to the Iraqi government. Manually inputting data into multiple spreadsheets for over 13,000 pieces of equipment greatly “increased the risk” of inaccurate receipts. As a result, the 1st TSC “could not provide the immediate quantity, dollar value, and location of equipment on hand in Kuwait and Iraq.”
Army manuals have strict procedures for maintaining property accountability. The 1st TSC’s actions blatantly ignored Army Regulation 710-2, which outlines supply policy: all property must be logged into the Defense Property Accountability System (DPAS) for coordinating logistic and financial operations—every piece of equipment, including lost, found, donated, or abandoned property, must be entered into this system. According to the audit, the 1st TSC did not record “identification data, gains, losses, dues-in, and balances on hand or in use” for thousands of receipts. This is also a direct violation of Army Regulation 735-5, which requires consistent recordkeeping for Army property “from the time of acquisition until the ultimate consumption or disposal of the property.”
A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last month raises additional concerns about the accountability of US military equipment provided to Iraq and Kuwait through the ITEF in 2016. The report determined that official protocol was neglected during all three stages of the arms transfer: acquisition and shipment, staging in Kuwait and Iraq, and transfer of arms to the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Without recording this data, the Army “cannot ensure that the equipment has reached its intended destination.” Out of the 13,674 items sent to Iraq and Kuwait in 2016, only 566 had receipts. Not only is this ratio incredibly small—roughly 4 percent—but out of these receipts, none recorded all of the required information. While 256 of the receipts (about half of the reported number) revealed when the equipment arrived at its “last point of departure” in the United States, none of the receipts recorded the date it was shipped out. Furthermore, none of the receipts included the date of arrival in Iraq or Kuwait, or even the date of transfer to the appropriate military forces. All Foreign Military Sales are required to have a unique case identification number to capture this information, but only 95 receipts included one. Finally, the GAO was “unable to determine whether [they] were provided all the equipment transfer and receipt forms.” In other words, the GAO cannot determine how many receipts the 1st TSC should have written to begin with.
These regulations, audits, and reports are meant to combat a number of problems that arise in military operations. First, accuracy is essential to maintaining efficiency in any program. As the audit points out, unreliable data “could delay the fulfillment of a request” or could prompt “duplicate” requests, thus creating an unnecessary backlog of forms. A lack of records could be perceived as lost equipment, resulting in over-requesting unneeded equipment. Without receipts, the DoD “cannot ensure that the equipment has reached its intended destination, nor can program managers conduct effective oversight of ITEF-funded equipment,” thus allowing problems to worsen.
But tracking equipment prevents a much more dangerous situation: lost or stolen weapons. In a 2015 report, Amnesty International documented the size and composition of ISIL’s stockpile by analyzing images, video clips, and other sources from Iraq and Syria. ISIL’s stockpile is a conglomerate of weapons that vary wildly in size, age, and origin. While some of their weapons reflect previous conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq War (where many soldiers brought their arms home), a number of arms used by ISIL are American-made, partly because “over the past decade successive Iraqi governments have made large purchases of arms…from China and later from the USA.” According to Amnesty International, the “fragility of the Iraqi armed forces” and “multiple failures by the US-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely” has partially fueled ISIL’s stockpile: American semi-automatic rifles, ammunition, and anti-tank missiles form part of ISIL’s inventory. The report surmises that decades of “multiple failures by the US-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stock securely,” along with poor security controls in Iraq, has led to ISIL’s mixed arsenal. Historic mismanagement of arms may exacerbate the issue the ITEF was created to solve.
While the $1 billion in lost receipts made headlines in both domestic and international media, it’s not a new issue: improper documentation consistently plagues the DoD. In its Agency Financial Report for FY 2016, the DoD recounts that “property accountability has been a continuous challenge…in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” and admits that the Army lost equipment worth over $586.8 million in Afghanistan in 2014 alone. Surprisingly, the ITEF’s 13,000 untracked pieces of equipment is a massive drop from the 135,000 untracked items supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2009. Officials in Afghanistan “did not maintain reliable records, including serial numbers” for these weapons, thereby placing a considerable amount of arms “at serious risk of theft or loss.”
At this time, the DoD has not fully disclosed why they failed to document all ITEF equipment. However, the Department agreed to comply with most of the GAO’s proposed solutions. Along with identifying the “root cause” of the issue, the GAO encouraged the DoD to “develop an action plan with associated milestones and timeframes” to ensure that tracking information is captured in the Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP), a database started in 2011 intended to be “a source of information for all aspects of U.S. Foreign Military Sales.” US military personnel, international recipients, and officials from other agencies can view and enter information into SCIP. In order to “maintain complete visibility and accountability of ITEF-funded equipment in SCIP,” the GAO urged the DoD to investigate any possible “inoperability and data reporting issues” within the database. The GAO also suggested that the Secretary of Defense provide written procedures for including equipment transfer dates in this database, and to reflect these procedures in the 1st TSC’s operating manual. In response, the DoD pledged to provide the root cause to the GAO within 30 days after the final report, develop an action plan, and alert the 1st TSC of amended protocol. Fortunately, manuals are “easy to fix,” and the DoD has “already implemented corrective procedures and written them into guidance.” Better recordkeeping goes a long way in strengthening US forces and reducing ISIL’s, and can stop both lost arms and unnecessary spending. It also paves the way for more effective oversight: accountability is difficult when information has disappeared—or never existed in the first place.