Tuesday, 31 July 2012

U.S. Says Afghans Abandoned Police Bases

Inspectors from a U.S. government watchdog agency discovered that several American-funded border police bases in Afghanistan have been largely abandoned or left unoccupied, raising questions about the coming hand-over of security duties to local forces.

Among other findings, inspectors found that one base, Lal Por 2, wasn't being used by Afghan border forces because it had no water supply, a report due out Monday states. A second, Nazyan, "may soon be uninhabitable" because of shoddy construction that caused sewage overflow.

All told, the new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found most of the facilities on three of the four bases that it inspected—each built to house 93 border police personnel—"were either unoccupied or weren't used for the intended purposes."

The disclosures shed new light on the U.S. investment in Afghanistan's security ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops by 2014. Creating capable and self-sufficient Afghan security forces is a cornerstone of the U.S. exit strategy. But the report points to questions about whether the U.S. is leaving behind working infrastructure that the Afghan government can sustain.

At issue is the construction of four Afghan border-police bases in eastern Nangarhar province, a key region that borders Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The region is home to a highway that forms a crucial military supply line and trade link to the Afghan capital.

The bases are among the many security facilities the Afghan government will inherit from U.S. and international donors after a decade of reconstruction work.

The U.S. inspection work, carried out between January and July, found extensive evidence of shoddy construction. Leaking fuel lines on generators created fire hazards; drainpipes weren't installed, causing water damage; and poorly installed doors wouldn't close. In one case, a well house at the Lal Por 1 base was being used as a chicken coop, "increasing the risk of sanitation and health issues," the report states.

The inspectors didn't examine whether the Afghan police units which were supposed to occupy the facilities were performing their jobs elsewhere.

All told, the value of the construction contract for the four bases was nearly $19 million. In a written response to a draft of the inspection report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which awarded the base contract to Road & Roof Construction Co., an Afghan contractor, said it was working to fix the problems uncovered by inspectors.

But the Corps also said the precarious security in the country made it difficult for it to undertake spot checks on construction projects. The report says the bases are "located in extremely remote and predominately inaccessible sites."

Ahmad Jawaid Abdullah, an executive with Road & Roof Construction Co., said the firm was aware of reports of "minor deficiencies" at sites, but added that most of the problems were "not due to construction," but rather poor facility maintenance.

The Corps, Mr. Abdullah added, was aware of water supply problems on one of the bases, but said that alternatives—such as drilling a well at a separate location and pumping water to the site—had been identified. Mr. Abdullah said the wastewater system at the Nazyan site was functional.

Since the end of 2001, Congress has appropriated just under $90 billion for Afghanistan's reconstruction, of which about $52 billion has been allocated toward bankrolling and building up Afghan security forces.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, was created in 2008 to track the billions of taxpayer dollars the U.S. has poured into Afghanistan for reconstruction projects. The organization got off to a rocky start, with the watchdog agency's original head forced to step down in early 2011 amid congressional questions about its effectiveness.

The White House recently named veteran prosecutor and congressional investigator John Sopko to lead the agency after the top post there was filled by acting heads for over a year.

Asian Defence News

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