WASHINGTON — The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is going to delve further into the dealings of a now-defunct Pentagon task force meant to address economic revitalization efforts in the war-torn country.
The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations projects in Afghanistan — the TFBSO — was created in 2009 to address economic revitalization efforts in Iraq. In 2010, the task force began similar work in Afghanistan. The task force closed in March 2015, and since then John Sopko, the special inspector general, uncovered several examples of waste, fraud and abuse by the TFBSO.
The new audit will examine all of the TFBSO's programs and activities in Afghanistan from 2010 through 2014, the inspector general has announced.
Specifically, SIGAR will look at whether TFBSO "created and followed an overall strategy and programmatic plans for its programs and activities within Afghanistan" and whether it "coordinated its programs and activities within Afghanistan with other government agencies and donor organizations."
The inspector general will also examine whether DoD conducted oversight of the office's activities and if these activities achieved "their designed programmatic outcomes and are sustainable."
At a Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support hearing last month, several lawmakers called for a full audit performance and financial audit of the TFBSO as much of the money used by the office to spark economic growth appears to be money not well spent.
Sopko has issued several reports related to TFBSO activities over the past year, highlighting a compressed natural gas station — that according to his best calculations cost $43 million — that only serves about a hundred taxi drivers in the area.
Other failed efforts include a $3 million cold and dry storage facility for Afghan farmers to store fruits and vegetables that has never been used, a $46.8 million Silicon Valley-like startup in Herat that "did nothing," a $7.5 million program designed to increase sales of hand-knotted carpets, and the importing of nine male goats from Italy to spur a cashmere industry, according to Sopko.
Lawmakers at the hearing also took issue with what appears to be lavish spending by the TFBSO, such as shelling out $150 million on villas and security for no more than five to 10 staff when they could have stayed on a military base.
The TFBSO appropriated more than $820 million since fiscal 2009 for programs and operations in Afghanistan, with about $759 million obligated and $638 million disbursed, according to SIGAR.
After struggling to get information from the now-shuttered TFBSO, Sopko recently received an additional 100 gigabytes of data on TFBSO work, which will be reviewed during the full audit. However, Sopko has pointed to the lack of record-keeping practices that existed within the TFBSO that will make the job to review its performance that much tougher.