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Criminal investigation launched into $28M in US funds wasted on Afghan uniforms

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko testifies before the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — The United States has launched a criminal probe into wasteful spending on Afghan National Army uniforms that cost American taxpayers some $28 million during the last 10 years, a top U.S. oversight official for Afghanistan told lawmakers Tuesday.

It is too early in the investigation to determine if stupidity, corruption or a broken system led to the United States purchasing about 1.3 million uniforms for the Afghan army in a woodland camouflage pattern, owned by a Canadian company, instead of using one of 12 Defense Department-owned camouflage patterns, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The DOD-owned patterns would have been free for the Afghan army to acquire.

He warned if the program is not adjusted quickly, it could cost American taxpayers another $72 million in unnecessary spending on camouflage pattern licensing and other specialty fees during the next decade.

“As we all know, oversight is mission critical,” Sopko told members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. “We cannot afford to wait until we waste millions of dollars before we try to fix it.”

To date, the United States has spent about $93 million on the Afghan uniforms, according to Sopko’s investigation.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in a memo sent to top Pentagon officials last week, blasted poor spending decisions by the Defense Department, citing Sopko’s findings on the Afghan uniforms. He ordered officials to find “wasteful practices and take aggressive steps” to eliminate unneeded spending.

“Cavalier or casually acquiescent decisions to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner are not to recur,” Mattis wrote.

On Tuesday, Sopko called for a review of all contracts awarded by the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, which oversees Afghan uniform and equipment procurement.

Lawmakers on the panel expressed support for such a review. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said such wasteful spending makes it more difficult for Congress to secure increased funds for the Pentagon.

“Circumstances like this undermine our bipartisan efforts to support our warfighters and their families,” he said.

The camouflage patterns on the uniforms in question appear to be inappropriate for combat regions throughout most of Afghanistan, of which only about 2.1 percent of the land is wooded, Sopko said. He added the uniforms were never tested to determine whether the pattern would be effective in Afghanistan.

CSTC-A officials failed to notify the Afghan defense minister that Defense Department-owned camouflage patterns, including several not in use by any American forces in Afghanistan, were available for the Afghan army, Sopko said. Instead, officials only showed the minister camouflage patterns owned by the Canadian company, HyperStealth.

CSTC-A officials, furthermore, ignored recommendations from Defense Department contracting officials against single-sourcing the camouflage pattern for the uniform contract. Instead, they required any company that won the uniform contract to use the HyperStealth pattern selected by the Afghan defense minister.

Sopko said the episode reminded him of a joke about buying a Ford Model-T automobile.

“Henry Ford would say you can get any color you want as long as it’s black,” he told the House panel. “Basically, the only option we gave the Afghan Minister of Defense was the proprietary options.”

But the matter is no joke, Sopko added. The CSTC-A office had no records to justify its use of the chosen camouflage pattern, its commitment to the company HyperStealth or details of its plan to purchase uniforms.

“We have found nothing,” Sopko said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

An Afghan National Army soldier loads an illumination round into a 60mm mortar at Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, June 10, 2017.
LUCAS HOPKINS/U.S. MARINE CORPS

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