The US Department of Defense spent around $43 million on a gas station in Afghanistan that should have cost closer to $500,000, The Guardian reports.
In other words, American taxpayers helped fund an ultimately useless project costing about 140 times more than a similar project in Pakistan. And to top it all off, no one knows exactly why.
The task force assigned to the project, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), reportedly disbanded in March and closed operations. But the Department of Defense is claiming it's unable to explain the exorbitant cost.
All of this is detailed in a report released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a government watchdog that monitors spending in Afghanistan. John F. Sopko, the head of SIGAR, wrote in the report,
One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome... Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that DOD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFBSO, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago.
Indeed, it is very curious the DOD does not have an explanation for such a costly project that reportedly had explicit communications with the defense secretary.
On Monday, Sopko said,
[The Pentagon] charged the American taxpayers $43m for what is likely to be the world's most expensive gas station.
The gas station in question is located in Sheberghan, Afghanistan and opened in 2012. According to the report from SIGAR, it was built to "demonstrate the commercial viability" of compressed natural gas for cars in Afghanistan.
But now that it's come to light, most seem to agree it was an "ill-conceived" project. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said,
There are few things in this job that literally make my jaw drop. But of all the examples of wasteful projects in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Pentagon began prior to our wartime contracting reforms, this genuinely shocked me. It's hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000 percent more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational. Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that's been wasted -- an unacceptable lack of transparency that I'll be thoroughly investigating.
The Guardian notes approximately $110 billion has been appropriated for the reconstruction of Afghanistan since the US invaded in 2002.
There have been frequent reports of the misallocation of these funds for various reasons, often linked to the corruption of Afghanistan's government, poor oversight and lack of accountability.
Last year, SIGAR released a report revealing a number of the thousands of weapons supplied by the US to the Afghan National Security Forces went missing.
What's more, evidence suggests some of these missing weapons ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
The War in Afghanistan is formally over, but the US military still has a significant presence and remains active in the country.
Citations: DOD'S COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS FILLING STATION IN AFGHANISTAN: AN ILL-CONCEIVED $43 MILLION PROJECT (SIGAR), Pentagon spent $43m on 'world's most expensive gas station' in Afghanistan (The Guardian), McCaskill Slams 'outrageous, wasteful' $43 Million Afghan Alternative Fuel Station, Calls on Pentagon to Account for Taxpayer Money Lost (U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri), Afghan National Security Forces: Actions Needed to Improve Weapons Accountability (SIGAR)