Exceptionally Critical Audit Exposes Costly Failures in DOD’s Afghanistan Reconstruction
An exceptionally critical audit of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) scandal-plagued initiative to help rebuild Afghanistan reveals that hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on failed “strategic business and economic activities” and hundreds of millions more were blown on unwarranted “indirect and support costs.” It marks the latest of a multitude of reports documenting atrocities in the U.S. government’s multi-billion-dollar Afghanistan reconstruction, a huge debacle that continues fleecing American taxpayers.
The recent probe, conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), further exposes the DOD’s egregious strategic and operational failures, revealing that programs intended to reduce violence, enhance stability and support economic normalcy in Afghanistan had a mere 22% success rate despite their astounding $316.3 million price tag. Incredibly, this type of fraud and corruption is so pervasive in the government’s mission to reconstruct Afghanistan, that it isn’t news anymore. It is simply par for the course, the unacceptable norm in a horribly mismanaged Pentagon program that has failed miserably.
This probe focuses on a temporary organization called Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) originally created by the DOD to support operations in Iraq. In 2009 the DOD redirected TFBSO to carry out economic development projects in Afghanistan to develop private investment, industrial development, banking and financial system development as well as agriculture diversification and energy development. Congress appropriated a whopping $823 million for TFBSO operations in Afghanistan and SIGAR investigators found that $675 million has been spent, though the figure could be higher. “While TFBSO’s poor record keeping was problematic in our assessing its performance, it is clear that TFBSO was unable to accomplish its overall goals,” the SIGAR report states. “Specifically, the lack of a clear mission and strategy combined with poor coordination, planning, contracting, and oversight led to conflict with U.S. agencies and waste.” The blasting by the watchdog continues; “TFBSO’s poor planning, contracting, and oversight practices contributed to incomplete projects, unsatisfactory work, and delays, which resulted in waste.”
Less than half of the 89 contracts reviewed by SIGAR used limited competition and sole-source contracting, drastically increasing the government’s risk of waste. Of those, seven contracts worth $35.1 million were awarded to firms employing former TFBSO staff as senior executives. “In other instances, TFBSO contracted with unproven organizations that performed poorly,” the report states. “In one case, TFBSO awarded two sole-source contracts, worth a combined $435,504, to Al Ehsan Construction Company and Tak Dana Dry and Fresh Fruit Processing, to construct and equip a pomegranate cold storage facility. According to contract documents, Al Ehsan completed its construction work for the shell building. However, when we visited the site on April 3, 2017, we found no evidence that the shell building existed.” Contractors were rarely held accountable by TFBSO for poor performance, resulting in money being wasted, the watchdog further writes.
Due to poor planning, disastrous contracting practices and lack of oversight only $70 million of the $316.3 million spent on contracts to fully met their deliverables. That’s a dismal 22% success rate. “The remaining $246.3 million (78%) either partially met or failed to meet their deliverables,” SIGAR found. Even when projects were completed, in many cases neither the Afghan government nor the private sector independently sustained or built upon the results, the audit says. The magnitude of corruption in this out-of-control program may never be fully disclosed because TFBSO didn’t collect or retain data that connected the work of its contracts with achievements or failures. Therefore, SIGAR writes, “sizeable gaps remain” and there is no way to determine if the program even came close to meeting its goals. “In short, because important documents and data were not consistently collected or retained, we could not fully assess the extent to which the $675 million obligated by TFBSO was spent effectively,” the SIGAR report states.
Judicial Watch has reported extensively on Afghanistan reconstruction boondoggles over the years, most of them documented in tremendous detail in federal audits. Highlights include the mysterious disappearance of nearly half a billion dollars in oil destined for the Afghan National Army, a $335 million Afghan power plant that’s seldom used and an $18.5 million renovation for a prison that remains unfinished and unused years after the U.S.-funded work began. Among the more outrageous expenditures are U.S. Army contracts with dozens of companies tied to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The reconstruction watchdog recommended that the Army immediately cut business ties to the terrorists, but the deals continued. Another big waste reported by Judicial Watch a few years ago, involves a $65 million initiative to help Afghan women escape repression. The government admits that, because there’s no accountability, record-keeping or follow-up, it has no clue if the program was effective. Last year Judicial Watch reported that U.S. government’s $8.5 billion effort to counter narcotics in Afghanistan is a humiliating failure that’s resulted in a huge increase in poppy cultivation and opium production.