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article imageUS taxpayers face 'new waves of waste' in Afghanistan, Iraq

By Lynn Herrmann     Jul 25, 2011 in Politics
Arlington - A US government report reveals the Afghan and Iraqi governments are unable to operate or pay for themselves, causing a threat of “billions of dollars of new waste” for US taxpayers under attack by politicians refusing to acknowledge the overseas war.
The report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sustainability: Hidden costs risk new waste (pdf), shows just one project alone in Afghanistan is likely to exceed $11 billion in waste, noting: “Potential waste from unsustainable projects exceeds $11 billion for just one program in Afghanistan, facilities construction for the national security forces,” according to a press release.
The news comes at a time when Republicans and Democrats have yet to reach an agreement on a mushrooming US debt.
Sustainability in the two war-ravaged countries, according to the report, is a serious issue, as many of the US government-contracted programs and projects have no plans for technical support, staffing, and long-term funding.
In addition to the national security forces facilities construction project, the report points to a power plant in Afghanistan which the Afghan government cannot afford to operate and an Iraqi water treatment facility which continues being shut down much of the time, and produces dirty water when it does operate.
“No matter how well a project or program has been set up and executed, it can turn into waste if we hand it over to a host government that can’t supply trained people to run it, pay for supplies, or perform essential maintenance,” said Commission Co-Chair Michael Thibault, in a news release.
Another revelation in the report shows US contractors “built and equipped” 133 primary health care centers in Iraq, at a cost of $345 million.
The Nassiriya water treatment facility in Iraq - funded by the US government to the tune of $300 million - which produces murky water when in operation, a problem compounded because many locals refuse to use the water, was built without a guaranteed source of electricity. The Iraqi government is now seeking additional US financial and technical assistance for operating the facility.
American taxpayers, many likely unknowingly, also paid for the Tarakhil Power Plant, or Kabul Power Plant, in Afghanistan. Cost for the now-completed project was $300 million, but the little-used plant, labeled a “white elephant” in the report, is faced with operating and maintenance costs far greater than what the Afghan government can afford to pay, another sustainability issue.
According to the report, the US Agency for International Development awarded contracts for construction of the power pant which, in theory, would
promote economic growth and improve the quality of life in the Kabul area.
The Afghan government committed to operating the plant a year after its completion, but then warned it was unable to afford the cost of fuel to run the facility. The plant was designed as a dual-fuel operation, meaning it could run on either diesel or heavy fuel oil, but diesel fuel in Afghanistan is extremely costly and heavy fuel oil involves a much higher degree of wear and tear on the facility’s generators. Duel-fuel technology also complicates maintenance.
Instead, the Afghan government has contracted with neighboring Uzbekistan for electricity purchase “at a fraction” of the cost of energy produced at the Tarakhil Power Plant.
Since 2002, the US Congress has appropriated almost $35 billion to train and construct facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The fiscal year 2012 budget request would increase that amount by an additional $13 billion. Of that requested amount, $5 billion would be directed toward clothing, equipping and paying the ANSF.
The sustainability report notes the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded the Afghan government will not be able to pay ANSF costs until 2023, at the earliest. A US military estimate of ANSF sustainability costs notes that just for the three-year period between 2014 and 2017 will be around $30 billion. The ANSF currently has about 305,000 personnel, with the number authorized to increase to 352,000, also increasing sustainment costs.
Additionally, according to the report, the US has committed $11.4 billion since 2005 to construct police stations, bases, border outposts and other facilities for the ANSF. The US Army Corps of Engineers will also regulate two contracts providing $800 million in operation and maintenance costs for 663 ANSF facilities during a five-year period.
The Afghan government has indicated it does not have the resources to pay these funds, and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, at a January hearing before the Commission, said: “The entire $11.4 billion [in construction spending] is at risk.”
The report calls for “immediate and effective attention” to these and other sustainability-related problems, otherwise the US will encounter
new waves of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Commission Co-Chair Christopher Shays said: “We’re seeing sustainment problems ranging from health clinics in Iraq to road building in Afghanistan. Unless government officials identify and address sustainment requirements and change or kill doomed programs, an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money will turn out to have been wasted. We’re raising a storm warning for Congress, the Executive departments and the public,” in the news release.
Among the report’s recommendations, the US government, including the Department of Defense, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, must conduct examinations of all completed and current projects for sustainment failure risk, and seek reasonable strategies to reduce those risks.
Furthermore, all projects or programs with little or no realistic chance at reaching sustainability must be cancelled or redesigned, and officials must report to Congress by December 31, 2011, and annually thereafter, their studies and proposed plans of action for reducing sustainability risks.
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