— -- The U.S. has destroyed 16 cargo planes it purchased for almost half a billion dollars for the Afghan Air Force and sold the scrap metal for $32,000.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is asking the Air Force why the fleet of G222 aircraft were turned into scrap metal this past August. They had sat idle for years on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport.
The remaining four G-222 aircraft are now in storage at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. No final decision has been made on their future.
In 2008, NATO purchased 20 of the Italian-made aircraft for $486 million in hopes that they could serve cargo and transit needs for Afghanistan’s new air force. But it quickly became apparent that the aircraft were not suited for the dusty conditions found in Afghanistan and required constant maintenance and spare parts.
According to a letter sent by SIGAR to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the G222 program was terminated in March 2013 “after sustained, serious performance, maintenance, and spare parts problems and the planes were grounded.”
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, wrote to Hagel that his office had been reviewing the purchase of the planes, but said he had recently been made aware that the aircraft “were turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and have since been scrapped.”
In a separate letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Sopko wrote that the aircraft had been recently “towed to the far side of the airport and scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency.”
“I was also informed that an Afghan construction company paid approximately 6 cents a pound for the scraped planes, which came to a total of $32,000, ”said Sopko.
Sopko said he was concerned that the American defense officials involved in the scrapping of the aircraft “may not have considered other possible alternatives in order to salvage taxpayer dollars."
According to Sopko’s office the aircraft never met expectations and only flew 234 of the 4,500 flight hours required from January to September 2012 because of constant maintenance issues and a lack of spare parts.
A defense spokesman said the planes were purchased “as an interim solution to meet the medium airlift needs of Afghanistan.”
Major Bradlee Avots confirmed that the aircraft at the airport in Kabul had been destroyed “to minimize impact on drawdown of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.” The American military force is currently drawing down from its current levels of 26,000 to a force of 9,800 that for the next two years will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces.
Avots said that the DOD and the Air Force are still determining what to do with the remaining four aircraft including “screening for outside interest.” He noted that working in a wartime environment presents challenges “and we continually seek to improve our processes.”
Sopko is requesting that the Air Force provide all documents related to the decision to scrap the aircraft in Kabul.