Pentagon officials are in the hot seat this week trying to explain to Congress why the military spent hundreds of millions of dollars on controversial projects in Afghanistan — that on their face seem entirely wasteful.
The now-defunct Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent $638M on economic development in Afghanistan.
One of those projects included bringing nine blond goats from Italy to build a farm, “in an attempt to launch a thriving cashmere industry” – according to the Huffington Post. The task force reportedly spent six-million dollars on that one.
On Wednesday, lawmakers on a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee tried to get some answers from the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. Unfortunately, Brian McKeon had little to offer them.
The committee called the hearing after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, (SIGAR) published “several damning reports about wasteful spending by the task force.”
The task force, which was led by civilian business experts, operated with very little oversight. It initially started in Iraq, but continued making the same mistakes in Afghanistan – according to inspector general, John Sopko. A yearlong investigation into Afghanistan reconstruction found that “widespread failure to apply lessons from Iraq” was in part to blame for “upwards of $17 billion in waste.”
Task force members lived in private villas with security – which cost $150 Million. McKeon told the committee that he thought those arrangements were necessary to show businesses they could “operate safely in Afghanistan.” Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), said the entire concept behind the villas “defied common sense.” She said, “The need to spend millions on security just to keep employees safe couldn’t possibly entice businesses to set up shop….do you see the fallacy of the logic there?”
A good portion of the hearing was spent discussing the $43M controversial natural gas station which is barely being used and has few customers. The station was considered a bad idea from the start since the average Afghan would have to spend more than a year’s salary to convert their car to run on compressed gas. The Pentagon disputed the 43-million-dollar figure and says the real cost of the station was under $10 Million.
Sopko said the Pentagon has just recently agreed to hand over “all the task force information SIGAR had requested,” on a 100-gigabyte hard drive. However, he also added that “the data provided is substantially inadequate and forensic accountants are examining it to see if anything was manipulated.”
The task force was shut down in March and most of its employees have since left the Defense Dept. McKeon seemed to use that as a reason for why he couldn’t provide lawmakers with answers to some very basic questions.
The subcommittee has asked SIGAR to do a full financial audit of “all the task force activities” since the Pentagon could not provide many details.