The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has no idea how many Afghan troops are living in barracks funded by the American taxpayer, and how many beds remain empty. But that's not stopping the coalition from planning more and more housing for these forces -- even as the number of Afghan forces is supposed to drop dramatically in the years to come. The result will be more barracks than are needed for Afghan National Security Forces -- yet another example of money wasted as the United States prepares to pull the plug on combat operations by the end of 2014.
John Sopko, the Pentagon's special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, is expected to tell the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations that Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan lacks a "comprehensive basing plan" for Afghan forces, more than 12 years after the war began. That is a serious issue, since the entire American war plan depends on training and equipping these indigenous fighters.
"This is significant because current construction requirements do not take into account planned reductions in the number of [Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)] from the currently approved 352,000 to the expected final troop strength of 228,500," Sopko's prepared testimony says. "As a result, ANSF facilities will have excess capacity, a problem we have identified in some of our inspections."
Sopko credits the coalition with establishing a process to review and analyze existing coalition facilities for transfer to the Afghan government. Some 235 facilities have been closed, and 352 have been transferred to Afghan forces, allowing the coalition to cancel 318 construction projects and cut costs by $2 billion, Sopko says.
Even more is still at play, however. Since 2005, Congress has approved nearly $52.8 billion to equip, train, and base Afghan forces, according to a special inspector general report released in September. As of April, about $4.7 billion of it was tied up in construction projects that were either still underway or in early planning.
The construction gaffes have not occurred just with Afghan facilities, either. In one example, Sopko reported in July that the United States constructed a lavish, unneeded $34 million headquarters facility at Camp Leatherneck, the largest U.S. base in Helmand province. The 64,000 square-foot building was completed this year despite a general there, then-Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, asking for the project to be stopped as early as May 2010.
The latest criticism comes almost three years after the watchdog's office recommended that the International Security Assistance Force get a handle on the Afghan military's long-term construction needs. Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the headquarters with purported oversight, did not full concur at the time, but acknowledged it could better document future priorities.
Sopko also will highlight Tuesday that the United States' ability to oversee future construction projects will be severely hampered by the U.S. drawdown in forces in Afghanistan. Large swathes of the country will be inaccessible to U.S. officials, and at least 52 projects may not meet the December 2014 deadline to complete construction, his testimony says.
Women face increasing threats in Afghanistan as coalition forces withdraw from the country, too. Despite the United States spending more than $600 million on programs designed to support Afghan women and improve educational opportunities for them, they remain largely marginalized, Sopko's testimony says.
In one example, Afghanistan's electoral body, the Independent Election Commission, said this summer that it needs 12,000 female police officers to search women at polling stations. The Afghan National Police currently has about 1,570 women -- 1 percent of the overall force, Sopko says.