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US Investigating Old Ammunition Sent to Afghan Army

The U.S. Army has suspended a contract with an ammunition supplier, which, according to The New York Times, provided 40-year-old bullets for delivery to the Afghan army. The U.S. Army is investigating, but the Pentagon says it has no reports that the bullets failed to function. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The New York Times says the ammunition for rifles and machine-guns arrived in Afghanistan in decaying cardboard boxes, and that some of it was manufactured as long ago as 1966. The newspaper also says some of the ammunition was made in China, and it may have been illegal for the U.S. government to buy it.

The Times says the bullets were supplied under a $300 million contract awarded to a company called AEY, which the newspaper says has provided ammunition and other equipment to the U.S. military and other U.S. government agencies for several years. According to the Times account, the company was founded nine years ago, and now lists the founder's 22-year-old son as its president. The Times says the company obtained much of the ammunition from old communist bloc stockpiles that the State Department and NATO had determined to be both unreliable and obsolete.

A picture on the Times' website shows one box of ammunition it says came from the company, with some of the bullet casings appearing to be badly corroded. The newspaper says Afghan troops were not able to use some of the ammunition, and it quotes an Afghan officer as saying last year that he was "worried" about the quality of a shipment his unit received. The Times also quotes a British expert as saying the quality of such old ammunition varies widely and "would tail off rather dramatically."

But Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the U.S. military unit responsible for training and equipping the new Afghan Army has not received reports of U.S.-supplied ammunition failing to perform as it should.

"Age is something that's certainly interesting, but the measure of ammunition, in terms of it being safe and it being effective, and it performing as it's supposed to perform, are the two most important things," he said. "And in this particular case there is no indication that this ammunition hasn't performed to the standard or has posed a safety risk."

The Times quotes an Army officer dealing with acquisitions as saying the ammunition did not undergo standard testing, because it was for foreign-made weapons and the Afghans did not request it.

The Pentagon spokesman could not say whether some of the bullets were procured from China, which could be a violation of U.S. law. But he says the Army is looking into that allegation, along with other aspects of the ammunition provided by AEY, and will determine whether to resume the purchase of its supplies.