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Pentagon investigators head to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — A team of Pentagon investigators will travel to Afghanistan next month to determine whether the U.S. is doing enough to train and equip local security forces.

The Defense Department Inspector General's office also plans by April to expand its staff permanently stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, said Thomas Gimble, the IG's principal deputy, in congressional testimony on Thursday.

The increased oversight comes as U.S. officials question the Kabul government's ability to defend the nation against Taliban fighters. On Wednesday, eight militants stormed government buildings in the heavily fortified capital, killing 20 people and wounding dozens.

The March trip to Afghanistan had long been in the works and was not in response to the attack, according to an IG spokesman. The team will be following up on an October assessment that determined the military was struggling to keep track of weapons given to Afghan forces.

Likewise, plans to increase IG staff members permanently stationed in the region was approved in January.

Gimble, who testified before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, said the IG's goal is to increase the number of personnel stationed in the region from 21 to 36. Of the 36, a dozen would be based in Afghanistan and 17 would be in Iraq. The remainder would be in Kuwait and Qatar.

Those numbers could change if the military pulls forces out of Iraq and increases troop levels in Afghanistan, he said.

Also at the hearing, the independent Government Accountability Office disclosed its findings that the military has failed to properly track weapons provided to Afghanistan forces.

Of the 242,000 weapons that the U.S. recently provided to Afghanistan, the Defense Department did not maintain a complete inventory on more than a third of them, the GAO found.

The weapons included rifles, pistols, machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

In its official response to the study, the Defense Department concurred with many of the GAO's findings, including the recommendation that the military address staffing shortages. The Pentagon also said it has taken steps to address the problem, including registering serial numbers of small arms and monitoring the location of weapons.

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On the Web:

GAO report on Afghanistan security: http:www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-09-267

DOD IG report on Afghanistan security: http:www.dodig.mil/spo/Reports/AfghanReportFinalCV01.pdf