The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The U.S. spent $3 million on boats for landlocked Afghanistan

One of the patrol boats purchased. (Courtesy of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
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The United States spent more than $3 million on eight patrol boats for the Afghan police, according to an internal audit released Thursday.

That sentence is surprising for a few reasons:

1. Afghanistan is landlocked.
2. Not a single boat has arrived in Afghanistan, even though the purchase was made in 2010.
3. That works out to be more than $375,000 per boat. Similar boats in the United States are typically sold for about $50,000.

According to the report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the boats were meant to be used to patrol the Amu Darya River running between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. They were bought to move government supplies and “to deter smuggling and illegal entry into Afghanistan,” according to Gen. Harold Greene.

But nine months after the boats were purchased, U.S. and NATO forces decided that the boats wouldn’t be necessary after all. By then, though, it was too late. The U.S. government had already spent $3 million on the boats. Nearly four years later, they are still sitting in storage at a Virginia naval base.

It remains a mystery why the boats were deemed unnecessary so soon after they were bought.

“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,” John Sopko, the inspector general, said in a letter to U.S. military officials.

Millions in U.S. government funds 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 as soon as it was completed — 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 a thousand miles away, in Pakistan.

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

According to a WikiLeaks cable, Uzbekistan had acquired 19 boats from the United States in 2004 to secure the Amu Darya River. Four years later, a State Department official wrote to U.S. Central Command that some of the boats had broken and asking whether the military could send over two more, along with two additional motors.