Here’s How the Military Wasted Your Money in Afghanistan
Unfinished projects, unnecessary equipment, rampant corruption
American taxpayers have spent more than $100 billion on thousands of reconstruction projects in Afghanistan—everything from new prisons, bases and barracks to weapons and airplanes for Afghan security forces.
The idea was that the U.S. would leave Afghanistan in a better state than it found it. The reality is that military and civilian officials wasted billions of dollars in reconstruction funds on incomplete, botched and unnecessary projects.
The Pentagon blew $7.6 billion fighting a war on opium, but today Afghanistan’s poppy crop is bigger than ever. The U.S. Air Force bought half a billion dollars worth of transport planes—then scrapped them for six cents a pound.
The Pentagon spent five years and $20 million renovating a dilapidated Soviet-era prison. The project still isn’t finished and the contractors now face corruption charges.
And the list of wasteful projects goes on.
It’s the job of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to tally, audit and inspect America’s various projects in the country. SIGAR warned the State Department about the sad state of American-funded reconstruction in Afghanistan way back in 2010. The inspector general checked in again in 2013 and—surprise, surprise—discovered that no one had done anything about the waste, fraud and abuse.
“State never finalized the draft 2010 U.S. anti-corruption strategy for Afghanistan,” SIGAR found. “And—according to agency officials—the draft strategy and its related implementation plan are no longer in effect.”
With billions of dollars on the table and little oversight, the Pentagon, the State Department and the government of Afghanistan went wild. SIGAR is still sorting through the mess.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built thousands of buildings for the Afghan military. And in most of the structures, contractors used low-quality insulation—a kind of spray-on polyurethane foam that’s highly flammable.
So flammable that international building codes prohibit its use.
Contractors sprayed the stuff in 1,600 buildings. SIGAR called out the error and Corps and its contractors promised to stop using the stuff … and to go back and replace the faulty insulation.
Then Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre—the man in charge of USACE in Afghanistan—overturned the decision. Because, Eyre argued, the occupants could simply sprint outdoors if their structures caught fire.
“The typical occupant populations for these facilities are young, fit Afghan soldiers and recruits who have the physical ability to make a hasty retreat during a developing situation,” Eyre wrote in a 2014 memo.
At least one of the buildings had already burned to the ground before Eyre penned his memo. That particular project cost $1.5 billion dollars. It would have cost around $60 million to fix the insulation.
Camp Leatherneck sits on 1,600 acres in Helmand province. The U.S. built the base to house some of the thousands of troops who surged into Afghanistan in 2009. Now they’ve all left, leaving behind a brand-new, 64,000-square-foot command center.
The command facility can comfortably accommodate more than 1,000 people. It’s got a war room, a briefing theater and an expensive air-conditioning system. It cost $36 million.
No one has ever used Camp Leatherneck’s command center for, you know, commanding anything.
In February 2010 the Army asked Congress for the money to build the Leatherneck HQ. In May, the Marine Expeditionary Force tried to cancel the project. But construction went ahead. Three years later, contractors finally finished the command center. But by then, the Americans were leaving.
SIGAR is still trying to figure out why the military blew $36 million on a building it knew it didn’t need.
Camp Leatherneck also has a garbage problem. The Pentagon dropped $11.5 million installing four fancy incinerators at the base. The machines were supposed to operate around the clock burning tons and tons of refuse.
But the military never hired anyone to actually run the machines. So the base has idle incinerators and heaps of trash. The military’s solution—an open-air burn pit.
That’s a fancy way of saying that troops dug a shallow hole, tossed in the garbage and set it on fire. It’s a practice that’s hard on people’s lungs, worse on the environment and a direct violation of Pentagon directives.
Camp Leatherneck is far from the only American base with this problem. Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika province has faulty incinerators worth $5.4 million. It also burns its garbage.
Shindad air base’s incinerators broke down and the soldiers there burned their trash, too. They kept right on using the burn pit even after contractors repaired the machines.
Forward Operating Base Salerno has $5-million incinerators that it can’t use—and which now sit in a pool of stagnant water.
As part of a 2006 agreement between the U.S. and Afghan governments, the American military agreed to “ improve governance by enhancing the administration of justice and rule of law.”
One element of that agreement was the construction of a $60-million prison and a $2.7-million justice center in Parwan, near Bagram airfield.
Contractors finished the prison, but not the justice center with its offices, housing, meeting hall, laboratories and courthouse. Contractors built less than half of the courthouse before the military stopped the work “for convenience,” according to the military’s paperwork.
SIGAR inspected the site and uncovered loads of shoddy workmanship. The project’s contractors are part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Turns out they might be corrupt. We’re as shocked as you are.
Pointless planes and idle ammo
The U.S. Air Force wants to make sure that the Afghan air force can take over once the Americans leave for good at some point in the future. To that end, the Pentagon has promised to give Kabul four C-130 Hercules transport planes.
The Air Force has already delivered two of the four-engine aircraft. Total cost so far is just under $80 million. The military should deliver the other two Hercules before the end of 2014.
The problem is that the Afghans are barely using the two planes they already have. It’s possible they won’t have the spare parts or pilots for the full fleet of four C-130s.
SIGAR asked the Pentagon what it was thinking. The response—an official, collective shrug.
Afghanistan’s current crop of planes and helicopters was old and falling apart. The Pentagon promised to spend close to $800 million on 48 shiny new aircraft for the Afghan Special Mission Wing.
It’ll be really hard for the Special Mission Wing to maintain and fly that many planes.
As of 2013, the group had just 180 personnel—less than a third of its full roster. Only seven of the group’s 47 pilots are fully qualified.
The Americans have taken up the slack, sending its own people to join the Special Mission Wing. But the U.S. military is leaving Afghanistan at some point.
That hasn’t stopped the Pentagon from continuing to purchase dozens of new planes for the Afghans.
In 2010, the Pentagon ordered eight patrol boats at a cost of $3 million. The idea was to give the boats to the Afghan police to help the cops patrol the border with Uzbekistan.
Nine months after the initial order, the Defense Department cancelled the project. But someone didn’t get the memo. The boats arrived. They currently sit unused at a Navy facility in Yorktown, Virginia.
SIGAR investigated the boats. No one’s talking and most of the records are missing. There’s no concept of operations, no review of the operational requirements and no documentation explaining why the Pentagon canceled the purchase.
Three million bucks may seem like small change, but all these little transactions add up to billions of dollars in waste.
Between 2004 to 2013, the Pentagon ordered $370 million worth of spare parts to repair the Afghan National Army’s vehicles and equipment. But neither the Afghan army nor the Defense Department agency assisting it are tracking the parts.
Around $230 million worth of spare parts is missing.
Yet the Afghan Army said it needed more. So the Pentagon ordered parts worth an additional $138 million worth of parts to replace them.
The U.S. military has also donated 747,000 weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces. That’s $626 million in pistols, rifles, shotguns and grenade launchers.
The Pentagon and Afghanistan’s military use two different software systems to track the weapons. That’s led to more than a few problems. Some 25,000 guns have duplicate serial numbers. Some serials seem to belong to three weapons simultaneously. All that overlap means guns can go missing without anyone knowing.
The majority of Afghan cops get paid electronically. But a fifth of police live in remote regions or don’t use banks. These officers receive their cash via a “trusted agent.” SIGAR found that these trusted agents aren’t very trustworthy.
The cops typically get just half of what they’re owed. The agents skim off the top. That’s $45.5 million missing from police pay in 2014 alone. And guess what happens when cops don’t get paid.
Meanwhile, America is on the hook for $1.4 billion dollars in fuel for the Afghan police. That’s enough gas to keep them on the road through the end of 2018. But as with the guns, neither the Pentagon nor Kabul have any idea where most of that fuel is going.
The agency in charge of supplying the gas acknowledged the potential for waste, fraud and abuse. Then it went ahead and approved $243 million for gas in 2014.
Worse, the vendors seem to know that no one is watching. They’re charging exorbitant prices for the fuel. SIGAR identified $1 million in over-payments in just two months due to supplier price-gouging.
The Pentagon keeps paying the tab. This has led to some police headquarters receiving more diesel fuel than their buildings are physically able to store.
What happened to all that extra gas? That’s a good question.
The waste we’ve listed here is just a small sampling. There’s also the $34 million the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent trying—and failing—to establish a market for soybeans in Afghanistan.
SIGAR found a storage facility in Gereshk worth $3 million dollars. No one is using or maintaining it. The U.S military denied SIGAR entry, citing security concerns.
The list goes on. America’s longest conflict is ending. U.S. troops are leaving. More and more it seems that America’s legacy in Afghanistan will be one of waste, fraud and abuse.