- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More than half of the Pentagon’s reconstruction projects in Afghanistan are deficient, with substandard construction materials and other safety problems threatening the structural integrity of the buildings, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.

Of the 44 Defense Department reconstruction projects inspected from 2009 through September 2015, only 21 were complete at inspection, and seven of the completed facilities had never been used, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said.

“In many cases, poorly prepared or unqualified contractor personnel, inferior materials, poor workmanship, and inadequate oversight by both the contractor and the U.S. government contributed to these substandard results,” the report said.

The projects in 15 provinces of Afghanistan have a combined contract value of $1.1 billion, said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. Since 2001 Congress has appropriated about $113.1 billion for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.

Mr. Sopko will testify Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Among his findings, he’ll say that the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and a strengthening Taliban have prevented government inspectors from physically inspecting some of the sites.

Even some projects in the capital of Kabul couldn’t be inspected due to security concerns. Inspection teams tried to visit a storage facility site in Helmand province twice in 2014, but both requests were denied.

“International Security Assistance Force officials told us that the requests were denied because that area had high insurgent activity and was unsafe to visit,” Mr. Sopko will tell the committee in prepared remarks.

Due to security concerns, President Obama halted the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan in October, announcing that the U.S. will keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of his term in 2017. There are 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, with plans to reduce the force to about 5,500 early next year.

Of the facilities that were inspected, Mr. Sopko’s report details building projects plagued with shoddy work and wasted U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Bathkhak School in Kabul province, for example, “had such serious design and construction flaws” that inspectors urged a delay in transferring the school to the Afghan government. Inspectors found “collapsible soil due to poor compaction; improperly installed heating and cooling systems; inoperable water systems; inadequate testing of mechanical systems; electrical wiring that was not up to code; use of substandard building materials; poorly mixed, cured, and reinforced concrete; and improperly installed roofs.”

In 2012 a team of inspectors found that the Afghan Special Police Training Center’s “dry fire range” was disintegrating only four months after it was completed. The Afghan government demolished the facility and rebuilt it.

“The disintegration of this nearly $500,000 project was caused by Qesmatullah Nasrat Construction Company, an Afghan company, failing to adhere to contract requirements and international building standards, and using substandard materials,” the report said.

Seven of the 14 completed projects had never been used at the time of the inspection. For example, in October 2013, inspectors found that the Walayatti Medical Clinic had not been used, despite having been completed 20 months earlier.

“The clinic had no medical equipment and had not been staffed,” Mr. Sopko said. “Further, there was no evidence that the clinic had been properly transferred to the Afghan government or that the Ministry of Public Health planned to supply equipment for or staff the clinic.”

One of the rare success stories is the Qala-i-Muslim medical clinic in Kabul province, where the community of 4,000 supported the clinic’s construction, and a villager donated the land.

“During our inspection, we did not observe any major deficiencies and found that the clinic had working heat, electrical, and water systems; floors were clean; bedding was plentiful and well kept; and the separate pharmacy building was well stocked,” the report said.

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