Audit: Military lacks overall plan for Afghan building projects

By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More than $11 billion in U.S. funding to construct and maintain bases for rapidly expanding Afghan security forces is at "risk of being wasted" because the military has no comprehensive plan for the program, according to government investigators.

Only about one-quarter of the nearly 900 construction projects scheduled for completion by the end of fiscal 2012 has even been started, Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in testimony Monday.

The Obama administration's strategy for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by the end of 2014 depends on the development of Afghanistan's own security forces. End-strength goals for the army and police have tripled from 132,000 in 2006 to a projected 400,000 over the next few years.

About $8 billion remains of the total $11.4 billion requested for the construction program. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one of four Defense Department agencies that manage reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, has requested expedited funding for the security force projects.

The construction of bases, training camps and headquarters for the Afghan forces is a little-discussed part of the coalition's plans to secure the country.

The initiative in some ways mirrors the mission U.S. personnel undertook on behalf of security forces in Iraq following the ouster of Saddam Hussein's government. But, in the case of Iraq, the military and police already had an infrastructure.

In Afghanistan, "there was nothing," said U.S. Army Col. John Ferrari, deputy commander for programs of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan. "Every time we field a new unit, we have to build a base for it," said Ferrari, who played a role in the construction in Iraq.

The Afghan Army 9th Commando Kandak (battalion), for example, completed training last August but has been forced to operate out of temporary facilities near the western city of Herat. The site for its new base, which could cost up to $25 million, not only requires barracks, a headquarters and other buildings, but also a power station and distribution system, a sewer system, water source and pumping system.

Another project awaiting construction is a $10 million base for a 2,050-person brigade to be built near the Naghlu Dam, which supplies electric power to Kabul. It will house not only an infantry battalion but battalions providing combat support for companies doing route clearance, military intelligence and policing.

A SIGAR audit of how much U.S. funding was being provided for the construction is due for release Wednesday, Fields said.

"Despite this significant investment and the large numberof facilities involved," he said,the SIGAR audit found the training command "has not developed a long-term capital construction plan that establishes priorities and maximizes resources to achieve the Afghan government's strategic security objectives."

Moreover, he said, "it is not clear" how the command plans to improve on what SIGAR found to be its poor performance up until now. Earlier SIGAR reports on completed projects found significant delays and shoddy work.

While most construction may be completed by 2014, one thing that will keep U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan beyond that date will be the need to continue training Afghans to operate and maintain the military and police facilities they take over.

In testimony to the Wartime Contracting Commission, Fields also noted that U.S. plans envision international responsibility for sustaining the Afghan forces, who are now paid with donor funds, through 2025.

Currently U.S.-paid contractors have multimillion-dollar contracts to maintain and service hundreds of newly constructed Afghan army and police facilities.

A training program for Afghans at six bases has just begun with a coalition military advisory group assisted by contractors doing the teaching, according to Ferrari. He called maintenance training a problem "not solved and just starting to be met."

Meanwhile Central Command is seeking contract personnel to assist managing construction at various bases around Afghanistan. The military has engineers within its ranks, but it does not have specialists such as plumbers and carpenters that are necessary for overseeing base facilities, Ferrari said. While Afghans are being trained to handle such jobs, contractors are required, he said.

Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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