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U.S. money wasted on Afghanistan projects, auditor finds

A federal watchdog criticized U.S. agencies on Thursday for squandering taxpayer money on facilities in Afghanistan that are too complex and costly for the Afghan government to maintain.

U.S. officials acknowledge that they plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire contractors to operate a complex of buildings in troubled Kandahar and other facilities in Afghanistan for the next 10 years.

A federal auditor complained in a report that the buildings constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Afghan national police represent an “outrageous waste of taxpayer money.” He said the problems are representative of a “regular negative pattern” in overly complex construction in the country.

“Why in the world are we continuing to construct facilities all over Afghanistan that we know, and the Afghans know, they will not be able to sustain once we hand the facilities over?” asked Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

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His critique comes at a time when the Obama administration is funneling billions of dollars into projects as part of its efforts to strengthen the country’s central government and security forces.

With support for the Afghan war declining and concerns about U.S. government spending rising, aid for Afghanistan is an increasingly sensitive political issue for the administration.

This is not the first time Washington has been accused of overbuilding projects for a frail allied government. During the George W. Bush administration, U.S. agencies were faulted for building power plants in Iraq that were never employed to capacity because they were too complex for Iraqi engineers to operate.

The project in Kandahar, called the Joint Regional Afghan Security Forces Compound, cost about $45 million. It includes administrative and training buildings, a vehicle maintenance shop, warehouses and barracks.

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Although the southern city is the Taliban’s spiritual home and coalition forces have long been planning an offensive to reassert government control, the project in question is in an area under coalition control.

Still, U.S. officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to the auditor that Afghans don’t have the money or technical expertise to run the compound on their own. As a result, they are planning to have the complex and other buildings in the country operated over the next 10 years by independent contractors — under agreements they expect to be worth about $800 million.

The audit also found that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t prepare a master plan for the complex, with the result that money was wasted on redundant power, water, sewer, heating and air conditioning systems.

The project also was plagued by delays. Work on three buildings fell six to 12 months behind schedule, and a fourth was delayed by two years, the report said.

The auditor also faulted the agency for locating a barracks building next to the armory building. The report noted that the armory could become a target for attack, so the proximity “is inappropriate and puts the lives of the Afghan national police personnel living in the barracks at unnecessary risk.”

paul.richter@latimes.com


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