Watchdog talks about millions spent by US to build idle power plant in Afghanistan

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, energy has long been in shortage. But when the United States government doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to try to solve the problem, it was met with a pair of empty solutions, a government watchdog recalls in a new interview.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) told Hill.TV's morning show "Rising" that the Tarakhil power plant was built on the outskirts of Kabul with the vision that it would provide more sustainable, continuous power to the capital city.

But after the U.S. spent $335 million to build the power plant, the inspector general found that Afghan officials didn't want it and couldn't afford the fuel needed to make electricity.

The plant, which now sits virtually unused, generates less than 1 percent of its total production capacity and provides little electricity for Kabul residents, SIGAR officials say. The inspector general has for years voiced concerns about the plant being underutilized.

“One of the things we get upset about when we do our work is that nobody ever talks to the Afghans about what we’re doing," John Sopko, the special inspector general, told "Rising."

"Now, some do, but we found that a project is more likely to fail than not if you don’t get the buy-in from the Afghans beforehand. Do they want it? Do they need it? Will they use it? And then the other question you ask is can they sustain it after we leave?” 

Tarakhil isn't the only symbol of wasted energy efforts, according to SIGAR.

The watchdog also found that the Defense Department doled out $43 million to build a natural gas station to fuel autos, but the money was spent before feasibility tests.

After the facility was completed, U.S. officials discovered Afghanistan had no cars running on natural gas. The U.S. then helped by providing 120 natural gas power cars, essentially paying to create a market for the station, the IG reported.

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– Alison Spann