By Tom Vanden Brook
WASHINGTON — The Army and Marine Corps may have wasted more than $100 million returning vehicles from Afghanistan that they don’t need over just a one-year period, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.
The services could have saved the money by blowing up the trucks or turning them over to allies, the report says. Over a one-year period, the Army and Marines returned 1,000 vehicles to the United States that the service didn’t need, at a cost of as much as $107,400 per vehicle.
The Pentagon has made some progress in reining in its costs, GAO notes, but not enough.
“However, due to ineffective internal controls, the Army and Marine Corps may be incurring unnecessary costs by returning equipment that potentially exceeds service needs or is not economical to return and repair,” the report says.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the report. But in a letter attached to it, officials concurred with the GAO’s findings.
The Army and Marines may have shipped home some of the vehicles because they did not take transportation costs into account. They made that decision despite Pentagon guidance that requires it, the GAO report says. From October 2012 to October 2013, the Pentagon returned from Afghanistan or destroyed 14,664 vehicles, or an average of 1,128 vehicles per month, the report says.
The report notes the difficulty facing the Pentagon in returning gear from landlocked Afghanistan. Urgently needed supplies, including Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks had been flown to Afghanistan at high cost. Flying vehicles from Afghanistan to Jordan, for example, and shipping them from a port there has the highest cost at $107,400 per truck. It is far cheaper to ship gear from Afghanistan by rail, truck and sea.
Out of 9,000 vehicles returned by the Army and Marines, 1,034 were unneeded, according to the GAO analysis. Transportation costs alone ranged from $5.9 million to $111 million, depending the size of the vehicle and mode of shipping it home.
The GAO urged the Pentagon to ensure that it consider all costs before shipping home gear.
The report appears to miss one potential cost of giving vehicles to allies, said Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis. U.S. and allied warplanes have been destroying Humvees given or sold to the Iraqi military that have been captured by fighters from the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL
“The flip side of this is when we leave vehicles with our partners we run the risk of those vehicles falling into the wrong hands, as they have in Iraq,” Harrison said in an email. “Now we are spending money to drop bombs on some of the Humvees and MRAPs ISIL stole from the Iraqi military.”
The Pentagon’s efforts to supply troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has had other major cost overruns. For instance, the Pentagon spent $620 million on late fees for shipping containers it failed to return on time from Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn’t until this year that the Pentagon got a handle on its inventory of metal shipping containers and didn’t have to pay late fees.