By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Investigators are probing reports of record-shredding by officials in the U.S.-led NATO command that trains the Afghan army after learning that records of fuel purchases for the Afghans totaling nearly $475 million are gone.
The training command has also not been tracking whether the fuel it delivers to the Afghan army is actually used or stored, leaving officials unable to determine whether any of it was stolen, said an interim report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.
John Sopko, appointed recently by President Barack Obama to the special inspector general's job, told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a letter on Monday that SIGAR was investigating the reported shredding by officials of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, or CSTC-A.
Sopko's office conducts criminal as well as civil investigations of waste, fraud and abuse relating to U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
During an audit of spending on fuel for the Afghan army, the CSTC-A command "informed us that its officials shredded all ANA (Afghan National Army) POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) financial records related to payments totaling nearly $475 million from October 2006 to February 2011," Sopko wrote in a letter obtained by Reuters.
In addition, the training command could not provide over half the documents the inspector general's office requested for its audit covering March 2011 to March 2012, Sopko told Panetta.
"The destruction of records and the unexplained failure to provide other records violate DOD (Department of Defense) and Department of the Army policies," Sopko said. He said a 2010 memo from the U.S. Army Central Command specifically instructed financial managers not to destroy documents related to the war.
"This matter has been referred to SIGAR investigations, and we would appreciate the continued cooperation of CSTC-A in our official investigation of the destruction of these records," Sopko said.
In a written response to Sopko's office, the training command noted steps it had taken to verify fuel purchases and deliveries, but did not comment on the reported document shredding. Sopko's office has done an interim report and plans to issue a fuller report on the fuel spending later this year.
The CSTC-A is a multinational command that works with the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan to train and equip the Afghan security forces. The commanding general is U.S. Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger, who was copied in on Sopko's letter to Panetta.
The training command pays for fuel needed to power the Afghan army's vehicles, generators and power plants. But it is preparing to hand over responsibility for logistics, including fuel, to the Afghan army on January 1.
Foreign forces are due to hand off security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
The United States, with help from international donors, will continue to pay for the Afghan army's fuel, however, and CSTC-A has proposed to increase spending on the Afghan army's fuel to $555 million a year starting in fiscal 2014, SIGAR said in its interim report. In the current fiscal year, about $480 million was spent, the report said.
Before handing over logistics responsibility to the Afghans and before committing to spend more money on fuel, the training command must develop better controls, the report said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)