Pentagon leaders should consider sending weapons inspectors to Ukraine to monitor the billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. arms flowing to the country, a top Defense Department official said.
All U.S. officials can do now is review receipts of the arms transfers from other locations in Europe and take Ukrainian officials’ word that the weapons are being properly used and stored.
“Over time, we would like to be able to extend our insights with greater presence on the ground,” said Jed Royal, deputy director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that oversees U.S. arms sales.
Royal spoke as U.S. lawmakers push to create a new U.S. government watchdog to oversee the more than $6 billion in security assistance sent in the wake of Russia’s February invasion.
Royal said senior administration officials, outside of DSCA, will decide if and when weapon inspectors enter Ukraine.
If such teams are sent in, they would not be “some kind of operational detachment or anything along those lines,” he told reporters on a Thursday conference call.
“What I’m talking about is a security cooperation office, appropriately the right size given the mission set for Ukraine, that would fall under chief of mission authority like we have in other countries,” he said.
The Pentagon’s “end-use monitoring” mission typically involves inspectors physically reviewing weapons and checking serial numbers. That is “just harder to do that without a robust presence on the ground,” Royal said.
Without one, “we are somewhat limited in our ability to get the kind of insight that we would like to have.”
Royal said his organization is working closely with Ukrainian officials.
“[C]ommunication with the Ukrainians has been extremely robust and the assurances that we have received from the Ukrainians about how they are handling these systems and protecting them, I will say, has been very robust and satisfactory,” he said.
Typically, arms monitoring officials “actually go open up warehouses and bunkers and actually check by serial number, these systems of highest interest to make sure that the accounting is what we think that it is, or is as it is being reported,” he said.
If U.S. arms inspectors go to Ukraine, “we should be in a position to actually go and do more physical validation verification,” Royal said. Officials are “going to have to get creative” about how they go about their inspections since Ukraine is a war zone.
Obviously, investigating on the ground in Ukraine would be difficult at present. During a roundtable discussion with reporters on Thursday, Sean O’Donnell, acting inspector general for the Defense Department, said that the office will send a senior auditor to Germany this month to meet with European Command officials. O’Donnell said that there are many ways, from video-conferencing to careful analysis of reports, for oversight professionals to do their work outside of the country. He added that the State Department might have a presence in the country and if the Defense Department were to establish a presence there then an IG presence might be something “worth considering.”
Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.