A recent investigation conducted by the military budget watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, revealed that a Defense Department task force working to redevelop Afghanistan after the war spent a staggering $150 million - or 20% - of its entire budget on private security guards and luxury housing. The task force disbanded in March.
The revelation was reported in a November 25 letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
In Inspector General John Sopko’s report, he noted that if employees of the $800 million task force “had instead lived at DOD facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DOD organizations, it appears that taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars.” He further estimated that if just 10 of the task force members stayed at the U.S. embassy, it would have saved over $1.8 million.
The report states that contractors provided “personnel with queen-size beds in certain rooms, a flat-screen TV in each room that was 27 inches or larger, a DVD player in each room, a mini refrigerator in each room, and an ‘investor villa’ that had ‘upgraded furniture’ and ‘western-style hotel accommodations.’ In terms of food, the contractor was required to provide service that was ‘at least 3 stars,’ with each meal containing at least two entrée choices and three side order choices, as well as three-course meals for ‘special events.’ ”
Paul Brinkley, the first director of the task force, was apparently the one who made the decision not to stay on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.
Although Brinkley declined to speak with investigators, he did write in his 2014 book that, “Our goal 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 … but we avoided living on military bases whenever possible. The goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.”
The Inspector General also questioned the task force’s decision to spend $57 million from 2010 to 2014 on private security guards to protect the employees, senior businessmen and guests. According to the report, these expenses included “secure low-profile transportation … [Voice over Internet Protocol] communications capabilities, on-site laundry service, on-site food and meal service (with light snacks and water/tea/coffee/sodas available 24 hours), business office space to include all equipment necessary to conduct business operations (computers, printers, phones, scanners, desks and chairs), housekeeping, maintenance, grounds and cultural advisers and translators.”
When the letter was released on Thursday, at least one senator appeared troubled. Senator Chuck Grassley stated that, “I hope this inquiry is the beginning of much more insight into how this task force operated. So far, the Defense Department hasn’t been forthcoming with task force documents. The concerns raised in [the Inspector General’s] letter don’t inspire confidence that the task force took care with spending.”