The US Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General (DoD OIG) is conducting an audit of transit operations on the Northern Distribution Network.
The DoD OIG is tasked with uncovering fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in the US military. The Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is an increasingly important supply chain that brings non-military goods and fuel to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Goods are shipped via Russia and Central Asia – passing through some of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to international monitoring groups.
The audit, which began this year, aims to “assess DoD oversight of the Northern Distribution Network and evaluate the ability of DoD to plan, coordinate, and execute sustainment operations for Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network.”
Gary Comerford, the chief of public affairs for the Inspector General, told EurasiaNet.org he was unable to expand further on the scope or activities of the assessment at this time.
Sources in Washington, DC, said the DoD OIG has taken a broad interest in the NDN, including the procurement of fuel in Central Asia.
In 2010, roughly 30 percent of all cargos destined for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan went through Central Asia. In addition, roughly 60 percent of fuel consumed by US troops in Afghanistan was delivered via “northern routes,” as opposed to the Pakistani corridor.
According to Transparency International’s 2010 survey of global corruption, the least corrupt Central Asian state was Kazakhstan, which ranked 105th out of the 178 nations surveyed, with 1 being the least corrupt and 178 being the most corrupt. Other NDN transit states were identified as corruption hotspots: Tajikistan ranked 154th, Kyrgyzstan 164th, and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were tied at 172nd. Only Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Myanmar were deemed more corrupt that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Department of Defense appears to have long been aware that transport operations were vulnerable to corrupt practices in Central Asia. Documentation obtained by EurasiaNet.org under the Freedom of Information Act showed that prospective Pentagon contractors openly acknowledged that the payment of “informal fees” was often required to “keep business moving.”
Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group, described the region as an “exceedingly difficult place for anyone who wants to do business in an open, non-corrupt way.”
“The DoD’s overwhelming concern is supporting the war in Afghanistan. But when one looks at the variety of allegations and rumors surrounding DoD’s fuel contracting practices at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, you get the impression that everything else was subordinated to concluding the contract,” Quinn-Judge said.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.