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Watchdog: New US-funded prison in Afghanistan overcrowded, falling apart

A building being demolished at Baghlan Prison in northern Afghanistan after faulty construction led to damage. Less than two years after it was built with U.S. funds, the prison is falling apart and is vastly overcrowded, according to a report by a Pentagon watchdog.

Less than two years after it was completed with U.S. funds, a prison in northern Afghanistan is falling apart and it’s vastly overcrowded, according to a report by a Pentagon watchdog.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report Tuesday highlighting what it says are major safety and maintenance problems at the prison in Baghlan province.

Among those problems are damage caused by the foundation settling; a failure to use reinforced concrete; and “poor or nonexistent maintenance by Afghan government.”

The prison was completed at the end of 2012 through an $11.3 million contract awarded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement to an Afghan company called Omran Holding Group.

While construction was completed on time and on budget, the damage to the buildings erupted into a dispute with the company denying any liability for the problems. SIGAR says it became apparent that the buildings had not actually been built according to basic standards.

“Information that came to light after the prison was completed indicated that (Omran) had not fully complied with all contract requirements and terms,” the SIGAR report alleges. “Many of the construction deficiencies may also have been the result of fraudulent actions by the project’s original contracting officer’s representative — a former embassy employee — and, possibly, OHG personnel.”

SIGAR accused the contractor of billing for projects including a drain water system and security fence that were never built. It said it is still investigating the extent corruption may have played in the shortfalls.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the State Department was already taking steps to fix the problems and that SIGAR was aware and supportive of those efforts.

“Before the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction conducted its investigation into the Baghlan prison project, we identified and were addressing serious deficiencies in construction,” said embassy spokeswoman Heather Eaton. “The department recognizes the concerns of SIGAR regarding Baghlan prison construction. We are committed to proper oversight of projects in Afghanistan and to work collaboratively with SIGAR in safeguarding U.S. taxpayer investment.”

The prison, like many facilities in Afghanistan, is situated in a potentially active earthquake zone, further exacerbating the safety concerns. While the prison was designed to hold 495 inmates, it has been housing as many 777 people, according to the report.

smith.josh@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshjonsmith

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