For more than a year, Afghan police chief Rajab Mohammed and his men have worked out of a dark, cramped mud home in a remote corner of Afghanistan while waiting in vain for construction workers to finish building the U.S.-funded police station across the street.
With winter fast approaching, some of the men, who’d been sleeping in a dirt courtyard, recently took over the idle construction site and set up cots inside the half-built station after they learned that the U.S. government had fired the Afghan company responsible for the project.
The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to build facilities like the one in Badakhshan for Afghanistan’s expanding national police and new garrisons for its army. The ambitious program is a linchpin of President Barack Obama’s strategy to strengthen Afghan security forces so 100,000 U.S. troops can come home.
However, like much of the wider Afghan reconstruction effort, it’s faltering, according to current and former U.S. officials, Afghan and American contractors, and contract documents.
Dozens of structures across the country either were poorly constructed or never completed at all. Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers who were supposed to be living in garrisons by now are still housed in tents.
The stations and barracks represent a pattern repeated across Afghanistan: Construction projects are failing with such frequency that the administration’s initiative to reinforce the Afghan security forces could be hobbled.
While American policymakers struggle to find enough money to resuscitate the U.S. economy or rebuild infrastructure at home, American taxpayers are financing an unprecedented construction boom in Afghanistan for new schools and clinics, electricity and water and roads and bridges.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, has ordered a dramatic expansion in contracting. Other than asking a brigadier general to investigate problems with military contracts, so far he’s failed to address their flaws.
A McClatchy investigation has found that since January 2008, nearly $200 million in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects in Afghanistan have failed, face serious delays or resulted in subpar work. Poor recordkeeping made it impossible for McClatchy to determine the value of faulty projects before then. The military tries to recover part of a project’s cost, but in many cases, the funds were already spent.
The investigation also found that:
- In a rush to award contracts to Afghan companies, the Corps accepts bids that don’t cover the cost of a project, including the expense of security and a contractor’s profit.
- Rather than scrap a project that’s failing, the government sometimes rewrites the contract to require only the work that’s been done and declares the effort a success. The process is called “de-scoping.”
At the same time, a vast majority of the companies that McClatchy found were doing shoddy work haven’t been banned from getting new U.S. contracts, according to government records. U.S. taxpayer dollars also continue to go to firms whose true ownership is hard to determine, making it difficult to hold anyone accountable.