The US army has "lost" $420 million (£260m) worth of military equipment, including weapons systems, vehicles, encryption devices and communications gear, in Afghanistan, according to an embarrassing internal investigation, The Telegraph reported.
The report by the Pentagon's inspector general criticised Army officials for being slow to report and investigate the losses of equipment, much of it highly sensitive, from its main operating bases at Bagram and Kandahar.
The investigation did not conclude how the "inventory losses" of 156,000 pieces of hardware for the 2013 financial year occurred, but noted a series of failings in oversight, accounting and record-keeping.
It was not clear if the any of equipment may have fallen into enemy hands, but the report underscored the costs and challenges facing the US as it winds down its military operations in Afghanistan after 13 years. The withdrawal could cost a further $7 billion, according to Pentagon estimates.
The report noted that the Army field support brigade responsible for managing the shipping out of military equipment from Afghanistan failed to report "in a timely manner" the missing material after sifting through major lost-property reports for 2013.
The Army's inventory of military hardware in the country is worth $27 billion, so the missing equipment represents about 1.5 per cent of the total. There are now 35 US bases and outposts in Afghanistan, down from 850 in 2012, and troop numbers will be down to 9,800 by the end of the year.
Officials noted that some of the missing equipment eventually may be located as the withdrawal takes place. But the report said that, as result of the delays in reporting that gear was unaccounted for, "there is an increased risk that missing property will not be recovered".
It also noted that "no one was held financially responsible for the property losses or accountable for missed reporting deadlines".
In a six-page letter included in the report, Major General Darrell Williams, head of the Army's 1st Sustainment Command, said that his organisation was "aware of the issues developed over an extended period of time" and "continues to actively work with strategic commands to improve property management".
Among the lessons learned during the audit was the need to "employ more experienced personnel to fill positions such as property book officers" and to find "responsible officers to manage the massive property requirements in theatre," he wrote.
The inspector general's office commended the Army units that it had taken to task for acting immediately to remedy several of the recommendations to improve oversight and accounting.