- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 12, 2014

Here’s an example of wasteful spending that won’t float your boat.

The Pentagon paid $3 million in 2010 to buy eight patrol boats to help Afghan National Security Forces secure their country’s Amu Darya river border with Uzbekistan. But the boats were never given to the Afghan military and now sit unused in a Virginia warehouse.

Plus, federal investigators at the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a press release that “the military has been unable to provide records that would answer the most basic questions surrounding this $3 million purchase.”

For giving taxpayers a sinking feeling, the Defense Department wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal waste, fraud or abuse.

Afghanistan’s nearly 130-mile border with Uzbekistan is made up almost entirely of the Amu Darya, where the boats were to be used. But the small, semi-inflatable boats, often used by police forces in the U.S., aren’t doing any good sitting unused at the naval station in Yorktown.

Investigators said the Pentagon has been unable to provide a number of records pertaining to the purchases, including whether a feasibility study on cost was performed, whether the Afghan Interior Affairs Ministry was involved in the decision and why the order was eventually canceled.

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“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,” SIGAR chief John F. Sopko said in a letter to military leaders.

“This 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,” Mr. Sopko wrote.

Pentagon officials did not return calls seeking comment by late Thursday afternoon.

But in earlier emails to SIGAR, various military offices acknowledged that “records of decision are not available to support all actions taken that led to the [boats] not being transferred.”

Likewise, they can’t find proof that the Afghan government was involved in or notified of the decision to cancel delivery of the boats.

“It is not clear, given the documentation at hand, that proper procedures to halt production and delivery of the boats were followed, but I have no evidence that [the Combined Security Transition Command — Afghanistan’s] Security Assistance Office predecessors did not follow procedures,” a response from the headquarters of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said.

The largest chunk of the money spent, $2.1 million, was for the boats themselves. The rest broke down into support services: $338,000 for spare parts and extra engines, $128,000 to train people how to operate the boats, $206,000 to transport the vessels and other expenses.

But it’s not just the $3 million cost for the boats and related expenses. Now that they aren’t being used, storage is costing taxpayers as well. The military’s Afghan Security Forces Fund paid $9,600 for one year of storage. The Pentagon says it doesn’t have any further records.

SIGAR said the decision not to transfer the boats to Afghanistan was made before the boats were completed.

But because they were so close to being finished and 80 percent of the money was already spent, military leaders decided to complete construction and turn over the boats to the U.S. Navy, which promptly put them into storage in 2011. The boats have remained at the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown/Cheatham Annex ever since.

What to do with the boats is now a matter in the Navy’s hands, and SIGAR has inquired from the service what the plans are.

The original plan for the boats was to transport supplies and to “interdict and to deter smuggling and illegal entry into Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, deputy commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

The report was issued just days after lawmakers on Capitol Hill and Mr. Sopko expressed concern in a committee hearing that too much money was being lost to incompetence and graft in Afghanistan. By the end of the year, the U.S. will have provided an estimated $103 billion to help rebuild the war-torn nation.

It’s not the first time the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan has been involved in a Golden Hammer award. In October, SIGAR criticized the office for buying millions of dollars in spare parts for Afghan National Army vehicles — and then not using any of them.

In fact, $230 million in spare parts that were delivered to Afghanistan went missing instead, possibly misplaced — or stolen — in a disorganized and chaotic tracking system that involved little oversight from Pentagon officials, who were relying on their Afghan counterparts to record everything, SIGAR said.

Then, without an inventory of what was needed, military officials paid $138 million for another round of parts that wound up not being used and are piled up in a warehouse, investigators said.

“CSTC-A cannot provide documentation confirming delivery or title transfer to the [Afghan army] for vehicle spare parts delivered during 2010 through 2012,” SIGAR said at the time, adding that the office “is placing orders for vehicle spare parts without accurate information on what parts are needed or are already in stock.”

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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