By Jeremy Herb - 06/28/13 02:55 PM EDT
A government watchdog said Friday that the Pentagon’s controversial $554 million contract to purchase Russian helicopters for the Afghan military could be a waste of money because the Afghans aren’t capable of operating and maintaining the fleet.
The report said that $772 million worth of aircraft could sit idle, as the watchdog also recommended a $218 million contract for 18 fixed-wing planes should be suspended.
The report will fuel criticism on Capitol Hill of the Pentagon’s decision to purchase the helicopters from Rosoboronexport, a Russian company that also supplies arms to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) blasted the purchase on the Senate floor after it was made public.
“American taxpayers should not be indirectly subsidizing the murder of Syrians,” Cornyn said.
The inspector general report said that the Afghan Special Mission Wing, which was established for counterterrorism and counternarcotics missions, is lacking both personnel and expertise to use the Mi-17 helicopters and Sierra Nevada PC-12 fixed wing planes.
The watchdog reported that the wing had just 180 people, less than a quarter of what was expected.
It also said a dispute between the Afghan Ministers of Defense and Interior over who would have control of the unit would adversely impact its growth and capacity.
SIGAR warned that “U.S.-funded SMW aircraft could be left sitting on runways in Afghanistan, rather than supporting critical missions, resulting in waste of U.S. funds.”
The Pentagon disagreed with the inspector general’s recommendation, saying that suspending the contracts “would not be in our national interest.”
Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, wrote that it would “unacceptably delay our efforts to develop the SMW into a capable force.”
The Pentagon has also argued that there currently is no sufficient alternative for the Afghans to the Mi-17 helicopters.