Failed Afghan projects swallow US money

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The rapid collapse of the Afghan government at the hands of the Taliban has fueled fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, sparked a political crisis for President Joe Biden and caused scenes of desperation at Kabul airport.

It also raised questions about what happened to the more than $ 1 trillion spent by the United States trying to bring peace and stability to a country ravaged by decades of war.

While most of that money went to the US military, billions of dollars were wasted along the way, in some cases compounding efforts to bond with the Afghan people the Americans were supposed to help.

A special watchdog put in place by Congress has spent the past 13 years documenting the successes and failures of US efforts in Afghanistan.

Here are 10 projects that the American watchdog – the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan – identified as a futile effort:

• 549 million planes sold for scrap: An effort to build an Afghan air force included spending at least $ 549 million on 20 refurbished Italian-made G222 planes. But 16 of the planes remained languid in the weeds of Kabul International Airport after persistent maintenance issues made them impossible to fly.

They were eventually sold as scrap metal for 6 cents a pound, or $ 32,000. The Justice Department told the watchdog in May 2020 that “it is not going to pursue criminal and civil cases related to the failure of the G222 aircraft program” so “accordingly, no one will be held responsible “.

• Road to Nowhere: The US Agency for International Development spent $ 176 million to build a 63-mile road between the town of Gardez and the province of Khost. Within a month of its completion, Watchdog inspectors discovered that five segments had been destroyed and that portions of two other segments had been washed away, according to an October 2016 audit.

• Woodland Camouflage: The United States spent up to $ 28 million to purchase uniforms for the Afghan army with camouflage patterns that did not match the arid environment. But Pentagon officials said the design was chosen because the then Afghan defense minister thought it looked good.

In a note to the force that year, then Defense Secretary James Mattis said “rather than downplaying this report or excusing unnecessary decisions, I expect all [Defense Department] organizations to use this error as a catalyst to highlight wasteful practices. “

• “Melting building”: The United States spent $ 500,000 with an Afghan contractor in May 2012 to build a training field for the Afghan special police training center in Logar province. It was designed to replicate a typical Afghan village and be used to conduct mock search and clearance exercises.

But inspectors found water began to enter the walls within four months of the United States taking control of the training field. The bricks used in the construction had too much sand and too little clay and started to erode.

• War on Drugs: Afghanistan has long been the world’s largest producer of opium poppy. In addition to its human toll, the Afghan drug trade was seen as undermining reconstruction and security objectives by funding insurgent groups, fueling government corruption and eroding state legitimacy.

Over a 15-year period, the United States spent an estimated $ 8.6 billion on Afghan anti-narcotics efforts. Yet in 2017, poppy cultivation and opium production reached record levels.

• Electric transmission failure: Inspectors discovered that the US Army Corps of Engineers had mismanaged a $ 116 million contract with an Afghan company to build a power plant to provide electricity to more than one million Afghans.

Mismanagement led the United States to spend nearly $ 60 million on a project that was not operational “because the problems of land acquisition and right-of-way were not resolved, and there was no ‘There was no contractual arrangement to permanently connect the system to a power source, “the watchdog reported in March 2018.

Auditors found that the system could also be “structurally unhealthy and pose a risk” to Afghans who live near towers and transmission lines, or who work at a nearby substation.

• Empty Headquarters: The US military spent $ 36 million on a 64,000 square foot command and control facility at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province which had a war room, briefing room and sufficient office space for 1,500 people.

“This appears to be the best-constructed building I have seen on my travels in Afghanistan,” wrote an inspector in July 2013. “Unfortunately, it is unused, unoccupied and will probably never be used for its intended purpose.”

• Hotel shell: The special watchdog discovered “serious shortcomings in the management and monitoring” of $ 85 million in loans granted by Overseas Private Investment Corp. right in front of the US Embassy in Kabul.

A November 2016 review found that the hotel and building were incomplete, empty shells abandoned, and both loans were in default.

• Unused military camp: The Pentagon spent $ 3.7 million to build a camp near the Turkmen border for the Afghan army. Although partially ready for use at the time of the 2013 assessment, it remained unused with “all essential areas – such as the administration building, latrines and firing ranges – empty”.

A Pentagon official told investigators the camp was not in use because it lacked a dining area.

• The Afghan army? The United States has spent about $ 83 billion over almost 20 years trying to build a force capable of fighting the Taliban and ensuring the stability of Afghanistan. But the Taliban rebuilt their forces and the Afghan army collapsed within weeks as the United States withdrew. Even the US military leaders seemed stunned by the advance of the militants.


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