SIGAR: Millions spent on incinerators in Afghanistan that were never used

A Marine disposes of trash at the burn pit on Forward Operating Base Zeebrudge in Afghanistan's Helmand province, March 6, 2013.

Troops and personnel at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan resorted to hazardous open-air burn pits to dispose of waste after the U.S. Army spent $5.4 million on faulty incinerators that couldn’t be used, a government watchdog said in a report released Monday.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that because of construction delays and safety issues with the facility’s electrical supply, the incinerators were unusable.

Open-air pits can pose serious health hazards to troops and personnel living in surrounding areas, the report said. Their continued use after a base of a certain size has been established is also in violation of a 2011 U.S. Central Command regulation, according to the report. That regulation says that once a base exceeds 100 personnel for more than 90 days — a threshold that FOB Sharana met — it must establish a plan for installing waste-disposal technologies such as incinerators.

“Nearly 3 years after the initial scheduled completion date for the incinerator facility at FOB Sharana, the incinerators have never been used,” the report said.

Despite known problems with the incinerators, SIGAR said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepted possession of them and paid the contractor, Denver-based International Home Finance & Development LLC, the full contract price $5.4 million.

Before the contractors could be held liable for the incomplete project, FOB Sharana was closed down in October 2013 and the entire base was handed over to the Afghan Defense Ministry.

“According to officials with U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, the Afghans have already deconstructed the incinerators, presumably for scrap,” the report said.

SIGAR said it had continuously raised concerns about the USACE’S failure to hold its contractors accountable, noting that if the incinerator facility had been put into operation in August 2010, as originally planned, FOB Sharana could have closed the open-air burn pits. Instead, “base personnel faced continued exposure to potentially hazardous emissions, and $5.4 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars could have been put to better use.”

SIGAR recommended the commanding general for the USACE conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding acceptance of the incomplete incinerators, and determine if any action should be taken against the contracting officers.

In response, the USACE concurred with SIGAR’s recommendations. It said that its inquiry found at the time of turnover only minor deficiencies that could be fixed later. No action would be taken against contracting personnel, the USACE said.

SIGAR questioned the USACE’s characterization of the deficiencies, saying that they posed safety hazards and would cost $1 million to fix.

Twitter: @alexandermpena


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