US failed to track more than $1bn in military gear given to Ukraine, says Pentagon watchdog

Biden administration officials stress there’s no evidence that the weapons given to Ukraine had been stolen

Ellen Knickmeyer
Friday 12 January 2024 06:51 GMT
File: Explosions in Russian city caught on dashcam footage amid Ukrainian airstrikes

Shortfalls in required monitoring by American officials mean the US cannot track more than $1bn in weapons and military equipment provided to Ukraine to fight invading Russian forces, according to a Pentagon audit released on Thursday.

The findings mean that 59 per cent of $1.7bn in defence gear that the US has provided Ukraine and was directed to guard against misuse or theft remained “delinquent," the report by the Defence Department’s office of the inspector-general, the watchdog body for the Pentagon, said.

While Biden administration officials stressed on Thursday that there was no evidence the weapons had been stolen, the audit undermines two years of lavish assurances from the administration that rigorous monitoring would keep US military aid given to Ukraine from being misused. That’s despite the country’s long standing reputation for corruption.

“There remains no credible evidence of illicit diversion of US-provided advanced conventional weapons from Ukraine," Brig Gen Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. Citing what he said was Russian disinformation to the contrary, Brig Gen Ryder added, "The fact is, we observed the Ukrainians employing these capabilities on the battlefield. We’re seeing them use them effectively.”

President Joe Biden is already struggling to win congressional approval for more US military and financial aid to Ukrainian government forces, which are struggling to drive out Russian forces that pushed deeper into the country in February 2022. The audit findings are likely to make Mr Biden’s task even harder.

House Republican opposition for months has stalled Mr Biden’s request to Congress for $105bn more for Ukraine, Israel and other national security objectives. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that there was no funding left for additional military aid packages to Ukraine.

The US has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, including big systems such as air defence. The end-use monitoring was required for gear that had sensitive technology and was smaller, making it more vulnerable to arms trafficking.

The Pentagon inspector general’s report said that the Defence Department had failed to maintain an accurate serial-number inventory of those defence articles for Ukraine as required.

Reasons for the shortfall in monitoring included limited staffing; the fact that procedures for carrying out end-use monitoring in a war zone weren’t put in place until December 2022; restrictions on movement for monitors within Ukraine; and a lack of internal controls on inventory, the report said.

While the US had improved monitoring since the first year of the war, “significant personnel limitations and accountability challenges remain," auditors said; full accounting of the gear was impossible as long as those shortfalls remained, they said.

Kirby said administration officials “have for many months now been interested in improving accountability over the end use of material that is provided to Ukraine.”

The audit didn’t attempt to determine whether any of the assistance had been diverted. It noted the Defence Department inspector-general’s office now had people stationed in Ukraine, and that its criminal investigators were still looking into allegations of criminal misuse of the security assistance.

Defence Department officials told auditors they expected to have systems for improved oversight in place this year and next.

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