- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2014

The latest spending mishap in Afghanistan probably left a lot of soldiers hungry. That’s because a $4 million base built for the Afghan National Army (ANA) was constructed without a dining hall.

The administrative building and troop barracks were built well. The water, sewer and electrical systems were installed properly. The guard towers and walls were sturdy and would protect the troops.

But the dining hall was left an open-air pit.

Camp Monitor, in the northern part of Afghanistan near the border with Turkmenistan, was built by the Defense Department as part of the plan to prepare the Afghan National Army to fend for itself once international forces withdraw later this year. But the lack of a place to chow down left troops understandably reluctant to use it.

Camp Monitor was unoccupied. All facilities — the barracks, administration building, latrines, and firing ranges — were empty and unused,” noted the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), during the watchdog office’s inspection of the base last year. Investigators said officials “told us that the camp could not be used due to the lack of a dining facility.”

The situation is only going to get more difficult as the U.S. begins to disengage from some parts of the daily operations of the nation, especially if all American personnel are withdrawn, said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

“I think the prospect for a funding that will keep the ANA in bullets and beans and fuel is going to be problematic and that is going to have an effect on these bases,” he said. “If there are no American or NATO forces in Afghanistan after 2014, the ability to see what the condition of these bases are and have some confidence in their maintenance and sustainability will be lessened.”

For leaving taxpayers with wasted funds and troops without food, the Defense Department wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal mismanagement, waste, and abuse.

Deputy Inspector General Gene Aloise said the drawdown of personnel is making SIGAR job’s more difficult.

“We’re quickly losing access to reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and it’s limiting our ability to protect U.S. taxpayer funds,” he said. “This project epitomizes the obstacles we face going forward — the money’s gone before we’re able to verify that it was spent as intended.”

Pentagon officials argued that the ANA was capable of completing the base’s construction.

“CSTC-A views the Afghan decision to fund and construct the Camp Monitor dining facility on their own as signs of good progress …,” said a response from Maj. Gen. Kevin Wendel, the commander of the Combined Security Transition Command — Afghanistan.

But SIGAR, headed by Special Inspector General John Sopko, said that doesn’t absolve U.S. officials of their responsibility to ensure that the money is properly used and construction is completed.

“We believe that CSTC-A has the responsibility to provide stewardship over funds provided to the Afghan government for construction of the dining facility and all other projects funded with U.S. appropriated funds,” the watchdog said.

At issue is the fact that the U.S. could soon lose oversight of many projects in Afghanistan. With more and more personnel leaving the country each day, it becomes harder for federal investigators to ensure taxpayer money is being spent efficiently on projects that actually help the Afghan people. Part of that at risk is the nearly $10 billion the Pentagon has given to Afghan security forces for infrastructure projects like the construction of Camp Monitor.

SIGAR said the base is already outside of the area they can safely visit, and therefore “inspectors can no longer access this area and cannot independently verify that the dining facility is being constructed in accordance with the contract requirements or whether the camp is being used as intended.”

Col. Jane Crichton, spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said there is now a military unit occupying the base, and that they are “preparing their food in a temporary kitchen and the troops are eating in mess tents while the dining facility is being completed.”

At this time, the ANA says that 70 percent of the dining facility is completed and the construction continues to progress,” Ms. Crichton said. “The dining facility is expected to be finished this spring, provided weather conditions allow it.”


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