- Washington Guardian - Monday, April 8, 2013

The chief U.S. watchdog in Afghanistan has taken the rare step of issuing a public warning about the safety of structures that Americans built for the Afghan military after the U.S. Army refused to replace flammable materials already linked to three fires.

The so-called K-Span structures built for the Afghan National Army pose a “serious fire and life safety risk,” but the U.S. Army has chosen not to replace improperly installed foam insulation because of concerns about the cost and time, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko declared Monday. 

“Last year, three K-Span structures built for the [Afghan National Army] caught fire during construction, resulting in property damage,” Sopko’s alert noted.

Two of the fires caused almost $800,000 total worth of damage.  But the inspector general is concerned about future fires and the risk to those using the buildings.  Out of 45 structures with the foam installed that investigators evaluated, only one complied with International Building Code standards, the Army’s Corps of Engineers found.  Meanwhile 23 additional buildings are already completed and currently being used by the Afghan military.

And 704 more buildings are in the process of getting the foam installed, Army documents show.  K-Span structures are a special type of building designed to be easily transported and easily set-up with little-to-no nuts, bolts or screws required.

Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not have an immediate comment Monday to the alert.

The special inspector general is concerned the military hasn’t taken strong enough measures to prevent future fires.  According to SIGAR, the Army’s only course of action was to “place fire safety warning cards within K-Span structures,” as well as create a “fire-watch” during sleep hours.

SIGAR is launching an investigation into the structures, and wants the Army to reconsider taking stronger action to correct the risk of fires.

“Given the safety risk to the ANA troops who occupy facilities in which non-compliant materials are likely to have been used as well as the number of K-Span facilities under construction, we are alerting you to our concern over this serious fire and life safety risk,” Sopko, in a letter to USACE.

Internal USACE memos released by the inspector general showed that Army personnel considered removing and replacing the flammable foam a “significant delay” that would adversely affect missions and run up costs.  Placing warning signs in the buildings was determined to be the less intrusive and cheaper alternative.

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