Private villas, flat-screen TVs, and “three-star” dining wasted tens of millions of dollars according to a letter from Inspector General John Sopko to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The Task Force Business Stability Operations in Afghanistan is back in the news
Last month saw members of Congress overwhelmed with disbelief following a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that found that the group spent $43 million for a gas station that should not of cost more than $500,000. Now the group is being accused of wasting even more “tens of millions” on housing staff and visitors to Afghanistan in private “villas” rather than in Department of Defense facilities.
“If (task force) employees had instead lived at (Department of Defense) facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security, and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DoD organizations, it appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars,” wrote Inspector General John Sopko. The Pentagon business advocacy agency is believed to have spent nearly $150 million on said villas and security for a “handful” of staff and visitors to the country.
Sopko wrote that TFBSO leadership “rented specially furnished, privately owned ‘villas’ and hired contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services, and bodyguards.” The contracts for these villas also included clauses that mandated flat-screen televisions of no less that 27″ as well as DVD players. Additionally, the villas had to offer food service that required that guests were given two entrée choices and three side-order choices.
Private security spending also a concern in Afghanistan
While the use of contractors to provide security in Afghanistan is common practice, the amounts spent by the Department of Defense outside of the DoD are pretty staggering. Sopko, in his letter, points out that $57 million was paid to the private security firm Triple Canopy from 2010 to 2014 for “armed support.” Defense Group Incorporation was paid $51 million between 2009 and 2011 for “extensive security and other services.” Lastly, Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise was paid $40 million from 2009 to 2014 for “transportation and personal protection…to personnel visiting/traveling to and from project worksites.” Sopko maintains that much of this money was earmarked to these contractors despite the fact that the Department of Defense could have provided much of this for a lot less money.
The letter called on Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, to provide more detailed information on who was staying at the villas and why they needed such a level of security.
“We have received the recent letter from SIGAR and will respond,” Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement today.
Afghanistan waste blamed on former deputy undersecretary of defense
Paul A. Brinkley, the former deputy undersecretary of defense who was TFBSO’s director from 2006 to 2011 was singled out by Sopko for these spending decisions. Sopko suggests in his letter that Brinkley, now in the private sector, refused to cooperate with his investigation. In a statement, Brinkley denied that he was contacted by SIGAR saying in a statement to USA Today, “I have not been contacted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction regarding the questions raised in the letter to the Department of Defense since I departed government service almost five years ago, but would be happy to meet and discuss these topics.”
“When I ran the task force, we had one mission: help bring normalcy to Afghanistan by encouraging sustained economic growth and employment for the Afghan people and the creation of an Afghan middle class,” Brinkley wrote in a letter to Mother Jones. “Everything we did focused on that goal, which is critical to Afghanistan’s ability to someday finance its own security and development needs without US taxpayer support.”