The United States State Department has criticized its embassy in Tajikistan for its cooperation on an investigation into military aid practices there, suggesting that embassy staff in Dushanbe were giving a sanitized view of events to their superiors in Washington.
On April 7 the State Department's Office of the Inspector General released a report on the Dushanbe embassy's activities, and among the issues it investigated was U.S. military aid policy in the context of the controversial 2012 military operation in Khorog. In that operation, special forces units -- which have been the focus of extensive U.S. training and equipping programs -- opened indiscriminate fire in the town, killing about 20 civilians. That raised questions about whether the aid was in violation of U.S. laws that try to prevent military aid going to human rights violators.
When the State Department tried to look into the event and U.S. military aid policies in Tajikistan, the information they were given was written by the military officers of the embassy, rather than the diplomats who were supposed to be providing oversight, the OIG report says. That "frustrated" officials in Washington trying to investigate, and "undermined confidence that the embassy provides a full and reliable picture of local developments."
In 2014, the Department undertook a review of security assistance policy to ensure that U.S. training and assistance to the Tajik military met the guidelines of the Arms Export Control Act, which forbids assistance to military units used for internal security operations. The mission replied to questions for review in cables drafted by its Office of Military Cooperation rather than its political section and approved by the front office. The wording was coordinated in advance with DOD but not with the Bureau of Political Military Affairs. Department officials from four bureaus and staffs expressed frustration that the replies stressed policy considerations rather than factual information.
This approach creates a risk that assessments of compliance could be made by implementing agencies instead of the Department. Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs are implemented by DOD, but the Department is responsible for funding, policy oversight, and guidance.
Tight front office control of information reported to Washington has undermined confidence that the embassy provides a full and reliable picture of local developments essential for assessment of Arms Export Control Act concerns.
Relatedly, the report includes one remarkable data point: "The embassy’s 2014 funding is approximately $84 million. More than 50 percent of its funding comes from the U.S. Department of Defense."
The report also notes that the embassy reporting on the event "lacked credibility," and raised suspicion that officer there were not reporting "information critical of the government and military." However, it generously attributed that reticence to the fact that embassy staff were trying to report only verified information, not "unprovable allegations of human rights abuse."
Washington consumers canvassed in the survey noted concern that embassy reporting lacked credibility. Officials in three bureaus questioned whether information critical of the government and military was appropriately included in reports. The OIG team compared the notes of meetings and initial drafts of cables with the versions the Ambassador approved and found no pattern of distorting information, only a reluctance to report unsubstantiated or unprovable allegations of human rights abuse.
For these sorts of reports, this is pretty strong criticism, but it's limited to how the embassy cooperated with the investigation. Regrettably, the report doesn't address the real questions: what the investigation ultimately determined, what the role of U.S. aid in the Khorog violence was, and whether the U.S. has changed its military aid policies as a result. When the commander of U.S. Central Command testified before Congress last month, his prepared remarks on Tajikistan didn't address the question, but said that the U.S. "continue[s] to assist the Tajiks in developing the capacity to meet a variety of [counterterror, counternarcotics], and border security challenges" and that the military-to-military relationship was "advancing steadily."