The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Watchdog: Afghan commando camp plagued with electricity and refueling problems

Members of the Afghan National Army special forces prepare to breach a doorway at a training compound near Kabul in May. (Photo by Spec. Connor Mendez/U.S. Army)

The Defense Department has awarded $57.1 million in contracts to build and renovate a military base in Afghanistan for the country’s Special Operations troops, but the facility is still plagued with generators that do not work well, fueling points that are unused and a dining facility that is drastically overcrowded.

Those are the findings of a new report by a watchdog on U.S. work in Afghanistan. John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, found that a variety of projects funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Camp Commando have not gone according to plan, citing inspections conducted between February and November 2014.

The report is only the latest by SIGAR to accuse the U.S. government of squandering vast sums of money while prosecuting its war in Afghanistan.

The report released Thursday examines a base, on the outskirts of Kabul, that is home to the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command Division Headquarters and a school for its commandos. Among its problems, an electrical power plant and refueling point were not completed to specifications, inspectors founds. The power plant was built at a cost of $7 million to provide electricity to the commando school, a Special Operations battalion and a support unit with five 1088-kilowatt generators. But they were not calibrated so that more than one of them could be operated at the same time, SIGAR said.

The Army Corps of Engineers concurred with SIGAR’s findings, and said that someone with the Afghan army improperly connected to a transformer in July 2012, damaging two transformers and several sections of cables more than two years ago. A contractor subsequently was able to repair the transformers and cables, but the main distribution panel was not fixed.

On the refueling point, SIGAR inspectors found that contractors installed tanks and pumps that could hold 38,000 liters of diesel fuel in two above-ground tanks, and an additional 1,000 liters of motor fuel a smaller third one. Inspectors noted the new facility was not operational in 2012 and said it still had not been fixed when they viewed it last year. The Army Corps of Engineers stated that the refueling point was tested and commissioned, but the reality is a bit more murky, SIGAR said.

“Our two site inspections in 2014 confirmed that the fuel pumps were not operating and had not been tested and commissioned,” SIGAR said. “Further, due to the inoperable fuel pumps, [the Army Corps of Engineers] could not have checked for deficiencies within key operational systems, such as the leak detection and auto-close pump nozzle systems.”

The dining facility has different problems. It was originally built for 280 people, but now serves about 1,600 troops, the Afghan camp commander told SIGAR inspectors. The commander had an addition built onto the kitchen to cook rice, but a larger dining hall has not been built.

The Corps of Engineers said that no disciplinary action against the contractors are warranted, and that the Afghan army is to blame for the problems with the power plant because of the transformer mishap.