U.S. spent $3 million on boats for Afghanistan that were never used, inspector general says


One of the patrol boats purchased for the Afghan National Police. (Courtesy of Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)

The eight patrol boats the United States bought for the Afghan police were deemed a “top priority” to transport government supplies and “to deter smuggling and illegal entry into Afghanistan,” according to military officials.

But instead of being shipped to Afghanistan, the boats, which cost more than $3 million, have sat unused in a Virginia warehouse for almost four years, according to the U.S. special inspector general for afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

There is no apparent use for them, and the Navy is now faced with having to repurpose, sell or junk them.

In a series of letters to U.S. military officials, John Sopko, the inspector general, tried to find out why the boats were purchased and never used. His office said in a statement that “the military has been unable to provide records that would answer the most basic questions surrounding this $3 million purchase.”

In a letter to U.S. military officials, Sopko wrote, “The list of unanswered questions is particularly troubling given the fact . . . that this program had been an important national security priority for the Afghan National Security Forces prior to its cancellation.”

The Navy bought the boats in 2010. Nine months later, it decided to cancel the contract, according to the report. But 80 percent of the funds had already been spent, and the rigid-hulled inflatable boats were almost finished. So, Sopko wrote, “it was decided that the contract should be allowed to proceed to completion.”

In response to his questions, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt wrote that it was not clear “given the documentation at hand that proper procedures to halt production and delivery of the boats were followed.” But he also said there was no indication of wrongdoing.

“The Department of Defense strives to ensure every reconstruction project is executed in a manner that demonstrates responsible stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars,” Marine Corps Maj. Bradlee Avots, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “While there have been some instances of underperforming projects, these are vastly outweighed by the positive cumulative impact of the wide array of successful projects.”

Sopko said that the lack of paperwork for the boats “is not the first time SIGAR has been confronted with lapses in record keeping, which hinder our ability to conduct our congressionally mandated mission to oversee U.S. reconstruction funds.”

Millions of dollars in U.S. government appropriations have been misspent in Afghanistan, as the inspector general has noted in a slew of reports over the past year. There was the $34 million military headquarters that sat empty after its completion, no longer needed because Marines had departed the area. There was the $80 million consulate deemed too unsafe to use after it was finished.

But the boats seem a particularly odd expense. Afghan security forces continue to struggle to maintain basic military equipment and locate spare parts. It’s unclear how they would have managed to fix broken boats. The nearest port is about 1,000 miles away, in Pakistan.

Perhaps even more bizarrely, the United States provided boats to Uzbekistan to patrol the same river — the Amu Darya — years earlier.

Sieff reported from Kabul.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan since 2012. He served previously as an education reporter in Washington, and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Post's Financial desk.
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