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State Department wasted millions on security compound in Afghanistan, report says

A battlefield cross is displayed at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the evening of Remembrance Day in 2013. The Camp Eggers project was terminated in early 2017

KENNETH TAKADA/U.S. NAVY

By CAROL MORELLO AND PAMELA CONSTABLE | The Washington Post | Published: July 30, 2019

The State Department wasted $103 million in an urgent effort to build a security compound in Afghanistan before abandoning the project with almost nothing to show for it, the agency's inspector general said in a report issued Tuesday.

The project, which was terminated in early 2017, started three years earlier amid increasing security threats after the Obama administration began a military drawdown in the country. Guards contracted by the Diplomatic Security bureau, which is responsible for protecting U.S. officials and facilities worldwide, were housed more than two miles from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The guards had to travel the distance four times a day in convoys.

To minimize the dangers, a replacement compound, called Camp Eggers, was selected barely half a mile from the embassy, but it required extensive demolition and renovation.

The problems became apparent almost immediately and cascaded, the inspector general's report said. Diplomatic Security, which had no experience managing such a large project, decided to modify the contract it had with Aegis Defense Services to provide guard services, even though Aegis had not overseen construction of anything bigger than a shooting range. An engineering consultant hired separately to review the plans warned that delays and cost overruns were inevitable.

But the consultants' advice was repeatedly ignored. The State Department plowed ahead with the project, originally estimated to cost $173 million, "to construct the entire Camp Eggers compound in only 18 months in a war zone," the report said.

Even amid delays and design changes demanded by the State Department, building materials were purchased and delivered, and more money was spent to store them.

Despite mounting concerns, the State Department officials overseeing the project failed to do much more than write "letters of concern," according to the report.

The consultant suggested suspending payments to Aegis, but one U.S. official told the inspector general's investigators that it was "a given we are going to let them off the hook." That reluctance was partly to avoid further delays and concern that it could complicate its relationship with Aegis.

By the time the State Department pulled the plug in January 2017, the projected cost had ballooned to $315 million, and only 10% of the project had been completed. The plan now is to build housing for the guards on the embassy grounds. It is not scheduled to be completed until 2023.

The inspector general suggested that the State Department spell out the circumstances under which it will undertake construction projects and designate formal responsibility. The State Department disagreed, responding in a letter to the inspector general's office that the doomed Camp Eggers project presented "very unique circumstance" and that no two projects are alike.

The report underscores how long the U.S. government has struggled to protect U.S. diplomats and service members based in Afghanistan, which is the longest war in American history.

On Monday, two U.S. service members were fatally shot and a third was wounded when an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of Americans at a military base in a conflict-torn region of southern Kandahar province, Afghan defense and police officials said Tuesday.

U.S. military officials confirmed that two U.S. troops were killed but did not provide any details or identify the victims, saying they needed to wait until their families were notified. A statement from NATO's Resolute Support mission said only that two service members had died. 

According to Afghan officials, the shooter was wounded in return fire and taken into Afghan military custody. It was the first "insider" attack since November, when Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard and the mayor of a town in Utah, was killed by an Afghan soldier in Kabul.

No information was immediately available about the shooter except that he was an Afghan soldier.

Insider attacks have been a problem for U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the past decade, peaking in 2012 with several high-profile incidents. But they declined significantly after U.S. military officials began placing "guardian angel" forces in the battlefield, Afghan security officials improved vetting of recruits, and a major U.S. troop drawdown began in 2014.

A total of 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in the 18-year conflict.

The Taliban has intensified its attacks in recent months, as peace negotiations with U.S. officials have continued in Qatar. As its presidential election campaign kicked off this week, Afghanistan is especially jittery amid fears of more violence.

On Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani's top running mate, former national intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, narrowly escaped death when attackers besieged his political office in Kabul. The attack, which began with a suicide car bombing, turned into a six-hour gun battle between security forces and heavily armed attackers, who killed 20 people and injured 50.

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Constable reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.
 

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