The U.S. Department of Defense was cited on Wednesday for wasting nearly $36 million in taxpayer funds building a military base in Afghanistan that was unwanted, unneeded, and unused, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. (SIGAR) The base was located at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, was intended to support a surge of 30,000 extra troops sent to Afghanistan in 2010. Construction did not begin until May 2011 and the building was not completed until April 2013, several months after the Defense Department withdrew those troops. The building was never occupied and in October last year, Camp Leatherneck was closed by the United States and transferred to the Afghan government.
International donors have spent billions of dollars on reconstruction in Afghanistan, but it is ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and major donors are concerned about its lack of progress in fighting graft. Defense officials built the facility despite facing objections from several generals who advised that the project should be cancelled because the base already in place was sufficient, according to SIGAR Director John Spoko. The request to cancel was denied by a fellow general who believed by another general who believe it would not be prudent to cancel a project for which funding had already been appropriated by Congress.
The U.S. Congress organized the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in 2008 to provide independent oversight of U.S. funds in Afghanistan. A military investigation into the 64K facility stated that the findings were based in part on “interviews with key individuals.” However, the head of the investigation acknowledged to SIGAR that he did not interview any witnesses or take any sworn statements during his investigation, and never spoke to the general who over-ruled the commanders in Afghanistan and ordered the 64K facility to be built.
Evidence uncovered by SIGAR indicates a senior officer serving as a legal advisor, attempted to coach witnesses involved in an active investigation and encouraged military personnel not to cooperate with SIGAR. SIGAR believes these actions constituted both misconduct and mismanagement, and violated his professional and ethical responsibilities as an Army lawyer. The report makes a number of recommendations, including recommending that DOD determine appropriate administrative or disciplinary action for the senior officers involved. DOD did not concur with this recommendation.
Sopko has previously said the U.S. government needs to change the way it operates and must set stricter conditions on its help and keep a much closer eye on the money. The United States ended combat operations in Afghanistan last year but said in March it would keep its current 9,800 troops there until the end of 2015. U.S. officials also said in March that the United States would keep funding Afghan security forces at a peak level of 352,000 personnel at least until 2017, at a cost of about $4 billion annually.