The Pentagon spent $2.89 million to build a food processing facility in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a project of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. This morning the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction unveiled a review finding that the facility has never been used and is not being maintained.
The report from Inspector General John Sopko says the facility “could have been a success story.” Once a bombed cotton factory site in Helmand province, the aim was to turn the site into a cold and dry storage warehouse and packing facility – allowing the farmers of the province to ship and process their crops and produce and sell to more faraway markets.
The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations began the project in 2010 and then passed it to the Army Corps of Engineers – hiring a contractor to build one cold storage and one
dry storage warehouse, demolish two existing structures, make road improvements; provide on-site power generation and an electrical distribution system, a new water well and to remove mines and unexploded ordnances from the site.
All of the work presumed that, upon completion, the Afghan government would be able to find a buyer or manage the facility itself.
In May 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the contractor’s finished work — 243 days behind schedule, but up to specifications. The contractor blamed the delays on security concerns, including “threatened and actual Taliban violence, difficulties transporting needed equipment across the border into Afghanistan, and difficulty getting experts on the installation and operation of the facility’s equipment to come to Afghanistan.”
The facility, providing approximately 10,000 square feet of cold storage and 13,000 square feet of dry storage, was transferred to the Afghan government in September 2013.
And then… not much happened.
As the IG report notes, “potential investors told [the Pentagon’s Business and Stability Operations task force] that the Afghan district governor had asked for money from the investors and the construction contractor before leasing the property.”
One potential buyer had his Kabul-based cold storage facility unexpectedly damaged and could not generate the funds to purchase the U.S.-built one. The Afghanistan government says it is still looking for potential buyers.
Helmand Province is one of the world’s biggest sites for opium production and a region that frequently endures fierce fighting between the Taliban and its foes.
In fact, it’s not clear who can get to the facility safely right now. SIGAR inspectors attempted to visit the Gereshk storage facility on two occasions—January and March 2014; both times International Security Assistance Force denied the request to visit the facility, citing high insurgent activity in the area. The Pentagon, in its written response to the IG report, noted that its own Task Force for Business and Stability Operations personnel “have been unable to travel to the site for more than one year.”
The Inspector General’s report recommends, “before approving future investment projects of any kind, [the Pentagon ensure there “are willing investor(s) capable of assuming ownership of and responsibility for maintaining constructed facilities; or, in the absence of investors, that the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Interior is willing and able to assume those responsibilities itself.”
Nice-looking facility our tax dollars bought. Shame no one’s using it.