Watchdog: Pentagon wasted $215M on Afghan mining projects

Watchdog: Pentagon wasted $215M on Afghan mining projects
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A Pentagon task force under fire for wasteful spending used $215.4 million in taxpayer money on mostly unfinished projects to develop Afghanistan's oil, gas and minerals industries, according to a new watchdog report.

“After operating in Afghanistan for 5 years, [the task force] left with nearly all of its extractive projects incomplete,” says the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on the task force released Thursday. The task force’s “apparent failure to complete much of its work was due to a variety of circumstances both within and outside its control.”

The report also examined the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) efforts in the same area. Together, the task force and USAID spent $488 million on efforts the report found were hampered by corruption, poor security and inadequate infrastructure in Afghanistan.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos Grassley: McConnell doesn't control my committee MORE (R-Iowa), who has been investigating the task force as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the report is the latest example of U.S. waste in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately for these kinds of projects in Afghanistan, you don’t even need the fingers on one hand to count the success stories,” he said in a written 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.”

The task force, known as the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, was meant to help rebuild the economies of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s come under lawmaker scrutiny after SIGAR (SIGAR) reports found it spent $43 million on a compressed natural gas station and $150 million on private villas and security guards.

In the latest report, SIGAR found the task force took on 11 projects to help the oil, gas and mineral industries. The task force had estimated Afghanistan has $1 trillion in reserves of minerals, oil and natural gas that could generate more than $2 billion annually for the Afghan government.

Of the 11 projects, the report said, three projects achieved little to nothing of their objectives, five partially met objectives and three generally met objectives.

The three projects that had little to no achievement were worth $54.3 million, according to the report.

“We concluded that these efforts were wasted or at a high risk of being wasted,” the report says.

USAID’s projects had mixed success as well, according to the report.

“USAID’s efforts to develop capacity within the [Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum] have been partially successful, but have faced substantial challenges, some of which are endemic to Afghanistan or beyond USAID’s control,” the report says.

“Nevertheless, unless the MoMP takes concrete steps to address these problems, USAID efforts to develop capacity and improve the operating environment for private sector investors in the extractive industries may be wasted.”