Skimming Off the Top US Army Charged Germany Fees for Afghanistan Donations

One cable obtained from WikiLeaks highlights irritation between Berlin and Washington over a 15-percent "administrative fee" the US sought to charge Germany on a 50 million euro donations made to a trust fund whose purpose is to improve the Afghan army. A top German diplomat complained the fee would be a tough sell to taxpayers.
Afghan National army soldiers and German Bundeswehr army soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force patrol during a mission in the mountains near Feyzabad.

Afghan National army soldiers and German Bundeswehr army soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force patrol during a mission in the mountains near Feyzabad.


In the glossy brochure "The Bundeswehr in Afghanistan," everything seems blissfully positive. One section, under the heading, "the current state of our engagement," mentions a massive donation that Germany made to Afghanistan. In 2009, the German government transferred €50 million ($66.14 million) to the Afghan Army National Trust Fund. The money from Germany was intended to "improve the operational capabilities and development of the ANA (Afghan National Army)," according to the publicity materials from the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces. The money, the message seems to be, is well spent. After all, once the NATO ISAF troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the Afghan army is expected to take responsibility for the country's security.

But little has happened with the German donation in the months since it was made -- at least nothing that Germany had hoped would as a result of its multimillion euro gift. There was also considerable anger over the fact that the Americans had been trying to claim some of the money for themselves.

That was apparent in a sharply worded demarche from Germany's then-ambassador to NATO in Brussels, Ulrich Brandenburg, to his American counterpart, Ivo Daalder. The US NATO Ambassador forwarded the German "non-paper," dated Feb. 3, on the very same day to the US State Department with a "request for guidance." Brandenburg complained that the German donation had not yet been disbursed to the desired projects.

The German money was to be used "exclusively" for projects stipulated by Berlin, according to Brandenburg's demarche, including one project in Kabul (€2 million), one in Feyzabad (€1 million) and an additional one in Mazar-i-Sharif (€4 million). "As of today," he wrote, "no project financing has occurred."

The delay, the demarche makes clear, had already resulted in "construction delays" of the ANA logistics school in Kabul, which was described as "the financially most pressing case." Germany expected that a total of €7 million for the three flagship projects be "transferred without any further delay," the incendiary letter also stated.

Inevitable, Heavy Criticism

It isn't the only complaint from the Germans. Inconsistent to the agreement made, the money was being administered by the trust fund's American donation managers. This had created a situation in which the US Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible, wanted to charge an "administrative fee" of 15 percent for the disbursement of funds. Such a fee, the German demarche makes clear, would be difficult to explain to German taxpayers.

"The issue has been raised already in the German parliament leading to questions why the Federal Government had donated money without any tangible effect on the prioritized projects yet," the German complaint reads. The paper also says that the 15 percent charge "will inevitably attract heavy criticism by German audit bodies and parliamentary commissions." As such, the funds "need to be reallocated" to the German mission headquarters at ISAF in Kabul "to allow for a swift implementation of the prioritized projects."

ORIGINAL: The Donation Cable

The German demarche concludes with a clear warning: "Any further delay in allocating funds" would "substantially impair prospects for any further German contributions to the ANA trust fund."

In his dispatch to the US State Department, Ambassador Daalder expressed sympathy for the complaint from his German counterpart. Although he said there were some "inaccuracies" in the German demarche, he added that "it is important we also recognize the serious political concerns the demarche raises." There may be good reasons for the 15 percent fee, but "the appearance that the US is charging allies an excessive fee for the use of monies they have donated to the ANA Trust Fund may be difficult to explain away during a parliamentary debate."

Daalder wrote that German NATO Ambassador Brandenburg "is probably correct in arguing that issues such as this could make it more difficult to encourage nations to donate to the Trust Fund."

Officials in Germany's Foreign Ministry state today that, in their response to the German letter, officials in Washington did in fact express considerable understanding for the Germans' irritation. Nevertheless, the Americans have since stated that they have very limited maneuvering room when it comes to the administrative fee: The administration of trust funds is conducted under American budgetary law. Sorry, officials essentially said, there's not a lot we can do.

There was, however, at least one gesture of goodwill: The Americans wired €3 million back to to the Bundeswehr.

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.
Speichern Sie Ihre Lieblingsartikel in der persönlichen Merkliste, um sie später zu lesen und einfach wiederzufinden.
Jetzt anmelden
Sie haben noch kein SPIEGEL-Konto? Jetzt registrieren