The United States military may seek repayment from New Zealand for years of free meals enjoyed by Kiwi troops in Afghanistan, according to a new report.
Coalition partners in Afghanistan received $6.3 million US ($8.8 million NZ) of dining services between January 2016 and September 2019 from contractors for which they were never billed.
The failure by the US Forces in Afghanistan to properly bill Western countries who were coalition partners emerged in a report released by the US Department of Defence Inspector General on June 24.
A spokesman for the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) suggested the amount which would need to be repaid would be small given the low number of Kiwi personnel in Afghanistan.
“The figures for this financial year are not yet available. In this case, the invoices for [Department of Defence] services are not expected to be high given the small number of NZDF personnel in Afghanistan.”
Support agreements with coalition partners in Afghanistan were typically budgeted for and involved the NZDF paying invoices on receipt, the spokesman said.
The billing failures relate to dining services at Resolute Support Headquarters in the capital Kabul, where NZDF personnel are known to have been deployed during the period in question.
New Zealand is among 17 coalition partners, all developed countries and termed “pay-to-play” partners by the US, who reimburse the Department of Defence for support and services they received in Afghanistan.
Other countries, termed “lift-and-sustain” coalition partners and including Turkey, Azerbaijan and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have their logistics, support and services provided free of charge.
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The Inspector General's report found Department of Defence coordinators did not bill coalition partners for 349 months of dining facility services.
They also failed to consistently calculate the amount owed in accordance with US military guidance when bills were actually initiated.
In addition to the $6.3 million of dining services which were never billed for, US Forces also under-billed coalition forces by $2.9 million.
The Inspector General recommended US forces in Afghanistan “negotiate collection with each coalition partner for services provided”.
The report also recommend developing agreements with each Coalition partner detailing the terms and conditions for dining facility services before providing those services.
During the audit, US forces in Afghanistan had a series of meetings with senior representatives of coalition partners at Operation Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul to agree payment terms.
The American multi-national logistics staff in the country would use a combination of actual meal counts during each month and a daily flat rate to determine reimbursement amounts.
US forces have completed billing for 2019 dining facility services, the report said.
A source who served in Afghanistan and ate at US military bases said the food was provided by third-party contractors and was of an exceptionally high quality.
“The catering was unreal,'' the source said.
He had even dined out on crayfish, flown in especially on ice, in the impoverished land-locked country.
New Zealand military personnel have been deploying to Afghanistan since 2001, following the US invasion sparked by the 9/11 terror attacks.
A long-running inquiry into an allegedly botched NZ SAS-led raid, Operation Burnham, is due to report back to Attorney-General David Parker on July 17, more than two years after it was launched.
The operation was the subject of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's 2017 book Hit & Run, which alleged six civilians were killed and ultimately led to the inquiry.
New Zealand military personnel remain in the country to “mentor and support the development of Afghan National Security Forces” at the National Army Officer Academy just outside of Kabul, according to the Defence Force.
A year ago, the Government announced the number of Kiwi personnel on the ground would decrease from 13 to 11.