Army officers caught wasting millions of dollars in Afghanistan

This 64,000 square-foot headquarter building at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, was never used, and cost $33 million to build. (Photo released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has recommended that three senior Army officers be disciplined for their role in wasteful spending in Afghanistan.

McClatchy DC reported that in an audit released on Wednesday, a lieutenant general, a major general and a colonel are accused of pushing the construction of a $36 million sprawling command center at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan that has never been used.  They allegedly did so even over the objections of commanders in the field.

The audit stated that the three officers failed to carry out a proper internal investigation and were guilty of ethical, legal and professional lapses. It is the first time the U.S. government’s independent watchdog in Afghanistan has recommended disciplinary action against such high-ranking military officers.

“This is one of the most outrageous, deliberate, and wasteful misuses of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan we’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“When it was clear this building wouldn’t be used, and when three commanders requested its cancellation, the Army not only built it anyway but completely failed to hold any officials accountable after all the facts came to light, so I’ll now be fully expecting answers from the Army,” McCaskill said in a statement.

According to McClatchy DC, the Pentagon requested funds to build a 64,000 square-foot command and control center at Camp Leatherneck during a troop surge in 2010. However, the regional commander in charge of the surge at the time, then-Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills said the facility wasn’t necessary and asked that it not be built.

The audit has recommended disciplinary action for then-Maj. General Peter M. Vangjel, who has since been promoted, for failing to cancel the project and for Maj. Gen. James Richardson for failure to carry out a thorough internal investigation. The audit also said Col. Norman Allen should be disciplined for “his failure to comply with law, regulation, and his ethical and professional responsibilities.”

“In the end,” the audit stated, “$36 million in U.S. taxpayer funds was spent on a building the U.S. never used.”

The audit suggested that the Pentagon implement financial management training at all command levels to discourage a “use it or lose it” approach to spending.

Vangjel disputed the allegations in a statement attached to the audit, saying it wasn’t true that he didn’t want to cancel the project because funds already had been appropriated by Congress.  He said his decision was “based on the best information available at the time, and was the right decision.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley said the audit was a classic example of Pentagon waste. “Spending money for the sake of spending it shows complete disrespect for the taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “Actively impeding a watchdog investigation adds insult to injury. Everybody responsible for this boondoggle ought to be held accountable for it.”

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