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Report: Afghan military's uniform choice has unnecessarily cost US taxpayers $28 million

An Afgan National Army soldier mans his position while his fire team conducts a clearing drill at the Regional Military Training Center in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, March 8, 2017.

KAY M. NISSEN/NATO

By THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF | The Washington Post | Published: June 21, 2017

A questionable uniform choice by the Afghan military has probably cost taxpayers an unnecessary $28 million since 2008, according to a new watchdog report released Tuesday.

The 17-page report, written by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, says that a woodland camouflage pattern uniform chosen by the Afghan Ministry of Defense for the country's military has cost an exorbitant amount because of its "proprietary" status.

In 2007, the then-Afghan Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak saw a woodland pattern produced by the company HyperStealth while browsing the Internet, according to the SIGAR report.

"He liked what he saw," Pentagon officials told SIGAR.

The pattern, called the Spec4ce Forest, appeared to be selected based solely on looks, according to the report, and despite the U.S. military owning the rights to other camouflage patterns that would have been significantly cheaper to purchase and field. Since 2008, the HyperStealth uniforms have cost more than $93 million.

SIGAR estimates that by switching to a uniform pattern owned by the Pentagon, U.S. taxpayers would save between $68.61 million and $72.21 million in the next 10 years.

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The SIGAR report mentions that other Afghan units, including the commando battalions and some elements of the Afghan National Police, wear woodland BDUs, or Battle Dress Uniforms. The BDUs have been in service with the U.S. military for decades and are significantly cheaper than HyperStealth uniforms that are adorned with hook-and-loop fasteners (Velcro) and additional zippers and pockets, much like modern U.S. Army uniforms.

U.S. Special Operations troops often wear BDUs to blend in with local forces, but their prevalence also comes with a downside: Taliban and other hostile groups can easily get a hold of them for infiltration attacks.

The report also questions the HyperStealth forest pattern's "appropriateness" for Afghanistan's primarily desert landscape. While much of the country is arid, greenery is prevalent in most of the country's more populated areas where rudimentary irrigation helps with farming. At the height of the war, U.S. Marine units rotating into the Helmand River Valley often ditched their desert camouflage uniforms for woodland variants to better blend in with their surroundings.

The U.S. military is also not without its share of uniform waste. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office called the Pentagon's approach to uniform procurement "fragmented" and accused the U.S. military of wasting millions of dollars.

 

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