How Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Were Wasted on Afghan Mining Projects
Policy + Politics

How Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Were Wasted on Afghan Mining Projects

REUTERS/Andrew Burton

The U.S. spent up to $488 million in an effort to develop Afghanistan’s oil, gas and mineral industries with little or no results, according to a new watchdog report.

The Pentagon’s now disbanded Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO), along with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), burned through the cash with a lack of oversight and follow-through, according to the latest audit by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

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The office looked at 11 of the defunct task force’s efforts focused on “extractives,” worth just over $215 million, and found three that showed little to no achievement of their objectives; five that partially met their goals; and only three that generally met them. Most of the projects were left incomplete after five years of work, the audit notes.

The report comes at a difficult time for the Defense Department.

A Senate subpanel has slated a hearing next week to examine the task force’s efforts after SIGAR audits revealed that TFBSO had spent almost $43 million to build a gas station and $150 million on luxurious private villas.

That the task force disbanded in March and no one at Pentagon seems to remember it ever existed has further damaged the relationship between Defense and Congress.

The Armed Services subcommittee looking into the task force is chaired by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH), who is up for reelection in 2016 and is seen as one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents. She could leverage the hearing – which will feature SIGAR chief John F. Sopko and a senior Defense official – as an opportunity to rake the Pentagon over the coals and cement her fiscal credentials with conservative voters back home.

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As for the latest SIGAR report, TFBSO spent more than $46 million building capacity for “mineral tender support,” which is related to the legal process of bidding for contracts, but not a single tender resulted in a signed contract.

The task force used $35.9 million for seismic reflection surveys, including one contract that was cancelled for cause after $4.7 million had been doled out and the project failed to collect any of the data required by the contract; nearly $45 million on hydrocarbon tender support activities; and about $34 million to repair and replace natural gas pipelines. None of these projects ever got off the ground fully, the audit notes.

The Pentagon isn’t alone is wasting money, though. USAID could end up wasting $200 million in Afghanistan thanks to issues like delays in reform, staff turnover and other chronic problems within the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, according to the audit.

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If anything, the report adds more poison to the well when it comes to the TFBSO on Capitol Hill.

“Unfortunately for these kinds of projects in Afghanistan, you don’t even need the fingers on one hand to count the success stories,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in a statement.

“It’s too bad that U.S. taxpayers must bear the brunt of so many expensive failures. With these mining debacles, U.S. tax dollars almost literally went down a hole,” said Grassley, who repeated his call for the Pentagon to grant complete access to all task force documents, especially its receipts.