"CONGRESS HAS APPROPRIATED $126 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since Fiscal Year 2002," wrote Special Inspector General John F. Sopko in testimony delivered in May to the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management. By 2014, he added, inflation-adjusted appropriations for that purpose "had already exceeded the total of U.S. aid committed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after World War II."
So much money, spent so fast, inevitably generates many examples of projects poorly or wastefully executed. Afghanistan reconstruction is no exception, as the ongoing work of Sopko's office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) makes clear. Here are a few of the most head-smackingly absurd.
THE $43 MILLION GAS STATION
ACCORDING TO A 2015 SIGAR study, the U.S.-funded Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) "spent nearly $43 million to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan." A similar station in Pakistan "costs no more than $500,000 to construct," making the Afghan counterpart some 86 times as expensive. Yet the Department of Defense (DOD) was "unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome."
Those who decided to spend those millions didn't seem to realize that "Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles" or that "the cost of converting a gasoline-powered car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan."
In summation, the SIGAR study concludes, "it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling station project should be undertaken.... In fact, an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO found that the CNG filling station project produced no discernable macroeconomic gains and a discounted net loss of $31 million."
THE 'MELTING' PRACTICE RANGE
SIGAR ALSO REPORTED that U.S. Central Command had in 2012 constructed a dry fire range (DFR) in Wardak province for the Afghan Special Police Training Center, at a cost of nearly half a million dollars.
The project "replicates a typical Afghan village and is used to conduct simulated police search and clearance exercises." Yet within four months of completion, the DFR "began to disintegrate." The report explains "these 'melting' buildings were the direct result of the construction contractor... using substandard bricks and other building materials" Unsurprisingly, "this problem was...