Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis targeted the Pentagon’s bureaucracy in a memo made public Monday by highlighting a recent watchdog report that said the U.S. military had wasted $28 million on Afghan uniforms over the last 10 years.
The 17-page report, released last month, said that a woodland camouflage pattern uniform chosen by the Afghan military was done with little regard for the pattern’s effectiveness or how much it would cost in the long run.
“Cavalier or casually acquiescent decisions to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner are not to recur,” Mattis wrote in the memo, originally issued on July 21.
The report said that the then-Afghan defense minister picked the uniform because he liked its aesthetics and the Pentagon supported the decision with little oversight, wasting millions over a 10-year period because of the camouflage’s “proprietary status” and the fact that the U.S. military could have provided less complicated uniforms at a significantly cheaper cost.
The SIGAR report also stressed that the uniform pattern was for woodland environs despite the fact Afghanistan is mostly arid. While Afghanistan has many deserts, the majority of the 15-year-old war’s combat has taken place in populated, and thus irrigated, areas where woodland uniforms can be beneficial to those wearing them.
In his memo, Mattis did not attack the uniforms’ necessity, but rather how the Pentagon went about buying them.
“The report is an indication of a frame of mind — an attitude that can affect any of us at the Pentagon or across the Department of Defense — showing how those entrusted with supporting and equipping troops on the battlefield, if we let down our guard, can lose focus on ensuring their safety and lethality against the enemy,” he wrote.
The Pentagon has spent $93 million on the uniforms since 2008, and SIGAR estimates that by switching to a camouflage pattern owned by the Pentagon, U.S. taxpayers would save between $68.61 million and $72.21 million in the next 10 years.
Mattis also seemed to highlight the SIGAR report because of how small the uniform cost is compared with the more than $700 billion already spent by the United States on the war in Afghanistan.
“Buying uniforms … that may have wasted tens of millions of taxpayers dollars over a ten-year period must not be seen as inconsequential,” he wrote. “To the contrary, these actions connect directly to our mission and budget situation.”
Buying uniforms for the Afghan military is not the only fashion choice the Pentagon has bungled. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report said the Pentagon’s approach to its own uniform procurement process was “fragmented” and has wasted millions of dollars.