Pentagon’s ‘invested’ $675m in failed ‘business projects’ in Afghanistan

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Members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police help with the inoculation of sheep and goats. (DoD photo/William Humes)

13 Jan 2018 | Richard Sisk| Military.com

“The Pentagon’s $675 million, four-year effort to boost the business sector in Afghanistan was a poorly conceived program that failed to meet its objectives in such projects as cashmere goat farming and pomegranate storage, a watchdog agency said.

About half of the funding for the program went for administrative costs rather than actual projects and, in the end, there were no reliable data to show that the effort “created jobs, facilitated foreign direct investments, increased exports, or increased Afghan government revenues,” according to a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The report focused on the DoD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which was charged with carrying out economic development projects in Afghanistan from 2010 through 2014.

From the start, it was “clear that TFBSO was unable to accomplish its overall goals. Specifically, the lack of a clear mission and strategy combined with poor coordination, planning, contracting, and oversight led to conflict with [other] U.S. agencies and waste,” the report said.

“Furthermore, of the more than $675 million in obligations contained in contracts that we were able to review, TFBSO obligated only $316.3 million to contracts directly supporting projects in Afghanistan. The remaining $359.5 million went to indirect and support costs,” SIGAR said.

“TFBSO often attempted to execute projects on timelines that were overly ambitious,” the report said, and its managers “often had unrealistic assumptions in project execution and did not account for the realities of operating in Afghanistan.”

SIGAR cited as an example the $435,500 contract with the Al Ehsan Construction Company and Tak Dana Dry and Fresh Fruit Processing to construct and equip a pomegranate cold storage facility.

According to contract documents, Al Ehsan completed its construction work for a pomegranate storage “shell building,” but “when we visited the site on April 3, 2017, we found no evidence that the shell building existed,” SIGAR said.

Another plan envisioned a project for raising cashmere goats. A cashmere goat farm building was erected and later found abandoned.

The report cited former TFBSO Director Paul Brinkley as saying that the goal of the program was “to get businesses running and to encourage private investors and corporations from outside of Afghanistan to engage in the country either as trading partners or as investors.”

“Wherever possible, we avoided depending on the military. We were part of their mission,” he said, but “we avoided living on military bases whenever possible,” and instead lived in private villas.

“The goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support,” Brinkley said.

The SIGAR report states, “Because TFBSO apparently did not keep records of who stayed at its villas, which companies they represented, or whether they invested in Afghanistan, we cannot determine whether TFBSO’s decision to have these guests reside in private villas, rather than on military bases, resulted in any private-sector investments in Afghanistan.”

Because TFBSO disbanded in March 2015, SIGAR did not make any recommendations to the DoD for its improvement, but instead issued a few “observations” on how the DoD could avoid similar problems in the future if it ventured again into the business sector of a host country.

“Define the entity’s mission, scope, and objectives in clear and measurable terms,” was SIGAR’s advice, and “develop contract planning policies that emphasize the importance of understanding host-country or local dynamics.”

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