Pentagon chided over 'imprudent spending' on Afghan gem industry

A government watchdog monitoring U.S. military operations in Afghanistan said in a recent letter that a Pentagon task force spent a significant amount of money to develop the country’s gem industry.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelWhite House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip MORE last week alleging that the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations was involved in “imprudent spending."

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko told Hagel that SIGAR is reviewing “significant financial expenditures” by the task force to develop the gem industry. 

Since the task force began its operations in Afghanistan in 2010, it has worked to reduce unemployment and create economic opportunities for people in that region.

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SIGAR received information that the task force sent Afghan jewelers to gem training programs in India, Paris and Milan, Sopko said. 

“Despite these expenditures, it is not clear to me that the gem industry programs produced any positive and lasting economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan,” he wrote to Hagel. 

SIGAR is now asking the Pentagon to provide the names of officials who oversaw the task force’s spending and approved the programs.

Between 2010 and 2013, SIGAR notes that the task force received $700 million in Pentagon funds to carry out its mission in Afghanistan.

The inspector general did not disclose the amount of money spent on the gem-focused program, but a spokesman for SIGAR noted a federal grant worth more than $1.1 million from 2012 that had that same purpose.

The grant was offered to the nonprofit Partners for Sustainable Development in an effort to train Afghan gemstone artisans who would then be assisted with their job placements in Afghanistan.

A request for comment from the Pentagon was not immediately returned.

The task force is ceasing its operations next March as the U.S. winds down combat operations. President Obama has ordered most troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year, but 10,800 will stay behind as a residual force. 

This report comes just a day after another report said the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion on the war in Afghanistan.