World News

U.S., Afghanistan fail to track U.S.-supplied small arms: watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has failed to effectively track many of the more than 465,000 light weapons it has supplied to Afghanistan’s army and police, creating the risk that machine guns and other small arms could fall into insurgent hands, a U.S. watchdog said on Monday.

A report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an independent U.S. government watchdog, found that multiple databases maintained by the U.S. government often had missing or duplicate information about weapons provided to Afghan forces.

SIGAR said its investigation into weapons oversight found even more serious problems in the Afghan government’s system for keeping track of small arms once it receives them.

“The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of (Afghan security force) personnel proceed,” the report said.

Afghanistan is expected to reduce the size of its police and army from about 335,000 today to around 228,000 by 2017.

SIGAR found that the United States and other nations had provided the Afghan government more weaponry than it had requested and that Afghan forces now have over 112,000 more weapons than they need, the report stated.

It said the United States had not required the government to dispose of weapons, such as the thousands of AK-47s provided to Afghanistan up to 2010, that were later replaced by other weapons by Afghanistan’s western backers.

The fate of weapons in the hands of Afghan forces takes on increasing importance as U.S. and NATO troops gradually pull out of Afghanistan and wind down their dozen-year mission there despite ongoing attacks from Taliban militants.

The bulk of that fight will be left to Afghanistan’s army and police, which have been built from scratch by NATO nations since 2001. Almost all U.S. troops are slated to leave by the end of 2014.

SIGAR recommended the U.S. government streamline its tracking systems for weapons, conduct an audit of small arms provided to Afghan forces and destroy excess weaponry.

In a statement, a Pentagon spokesman said officials were making progress in addressing the problem, merging U.S. weapons databases and helping the Afghans improve their own oversight.

The Afghan Defense Ministry was not immediately available to comment.

Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by David Storey and Gunna Dickson