Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, is a fascinating game that's sort of like a cross between polo and rugby, except that instead of a ball you play with a headless goat carcass. I recommend you watch it sometime, and apparently, the State Department does, too.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko suspects something is "seriously wrong" and wants to know what the hell is going on. Earlier this month he sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking about a bizarre boondoggle in which the State Department paid millions to film the sport:
The contract originally specified five trucks at a cost of $6 million (three satellite/microwave television broadcast trucks at the unit price of $1,786,779, two Ford ES350 trucks at a unit price of $157,300 and various communications equipment). The primary use of the vehicles was for "live sporting events, such as Buzkashi, Soccer, Cricket and other sports."2 On September 16, 2013, the contract was amended to require only 3 trucks, at a cost of $3.6 million (one satellite/microwave television broadcast truck at the unit price of $1,589,557 and two Ford ES350 trucks at a unit price of $568,062).3 SIGAR has been told that the contractor received unspecified compensation for costs incurred under the original contract.
The trucks were supposed to be delivered way back in August 2011. In fact, they didn't arrive until September 2014, and Sopko's got photographic proof that they're just sitting there covered in tarp. Sopko also wants to know why the "two Ford ES350 trucks (originally priced at $157,300 each) more than tripled in price, to $568,062 each under the subsequent contract modification."
SIGAR brought the mess to light on Friday by shaming the State Department on Twitter about it.
This is a case of the U.S. using soft power, trying to co-opt and promote Afghanistan's culture, whereas the Taliban hated and banned Buzkashi. But, why did it have to cost so much? People already film Buzkashi. C'mon, it's 2014, and just like everything else it's all over Youtube. Presumably, most of them have cheaper equipment, whether it's traditional film gear or the increasingly inexpensive high quality tools like cellphone cameras. Millions of dollars spent on an obscure sport in of a mere 30 million people seems undue, especially since there are bigger issues like opium production being at an all-time high.
Sopko's got a lot of problems on his plate trying to reconstruct Afghanistan. He's also investigating why the U.S. military spent about $500 million on cargo planes for Afghan troops. The planes were hardly ever used and then they were sold for $32,000 in scrap.
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