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Special IG raises concerns over Afghanistan-Pakistan border project

Ghais, an Afghan Border Police officer, searches a vehicle at a checkpoint along Highway 4, just north of the Weesh-Chaman border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

JOSH SMITH/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSH SMITH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 10, 2013

A government watchdog agency and U.S. military commanders sparred Thursday over concerns that a new multi-million-dollar border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan may not meet basic design standards.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko said earlier this month he sent a draft letter privately to U.S. military leaders warning of potential design flaws in the Weesh-Chaman border crossing in southern Afghanistan.

Before the official letter was released, however, U.S. Forces–Afghanistan issued a press release on Wednesday objecting to SIGAR’s findings. Some government officials have privately criticized SIGAR for its media-friendly tactics and blunt public comments. In recent months, however, the subjects of SIGAR’s investigations have been pushing back more publicly as well.

In Sopko’s letter, provided to Stars and Stripes prior to its official release, he warned that plans to have only one entry control point could reduce efficiency and undermine security at the crossing, which often handles tens of thousands of people per day.

He also raised concerns that a new vehicle inspection device will block one lane of traffic, further impeding movement through the crossing. A more detailed report, according to Sopko, was not released publicly because U.S. military officials were concerned about security.

USFOR-A, however, insisted SIGAR’s fears are unfounded.

“Although USFOR-A appreciates SIGAR’s concern in ensuring the most effective design is utilized, it is common practice for border crossing points to use a single entry control point,” the press release stated.

The standards that SIGAR is basing its conclusions on, USFOR-A officials said, only apply to bases and other facilities, not border control points.

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised concerns about the new vehicle inspection device, USFOR-A officials wrote that “our experience with this equipment at other active border crossing points shows that the impact on traffic flow will be minimal and outweighed by the enhanced security and efficiencies provided by the device.”

In Sopko’s letter, which was to be publicly released later Thursday, he “strongly” disagreed with USFOR-A’s dissent, and said other military units were also worried about the new inspection equipment.

“This view is not shared by officials from either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or NATO Regional Command-South, both of whom voiced serious concerns over installation of the device,” Sopko wrote. “In fact, Regional Command-South issued a formal letter of non-concurrence related to the device’s installation.”

Sopko addressed his letter to generals with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, as well as ISAF’s Regional Command – South.

USFOR-A said it welcomed SIGAR’s input but gave no indication the design would be altered.

smith.josh@stripes.com

Twitter: @joshjonsmith

John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
SIGAR

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