Reports from the federal Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are essentially snapshots of the absurdly expensive cronyist feeding trough that "nation-building" in that country actually is.
You may remember SIGAR for previous hits like "The Case of the $3.6 Million Goat Carcass," and "Hey, Has Anybody Seen All Our Foreign Aid?" Its latest report is just as enraging, but even more frustrating, it's just one among many.
The United States (as in, you and me), paid $43 million to build a compressed natural gas (CNG) station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. SIGAR researched and determined similar stations in Pakistan cost a mere $500,000 or less to build. That's not even the punch line. The punch line is that the Department of Defense apparently has no idea how this happened or where the money went. Wait, no, that's not the punch line, either. The punch line is that the purpose of this project by the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFSBO) was to "demonstrate the commercial viability of CNG for automobiles as part of a broader effort to take advantage of Afghanistan's domestic natural gas reserves and reduce the country's reliance on energy imports."
Oh, I would say certainly something was taken advantage of.
Why can't anybody account for all this spending? According to the Department of Defense, the TBFSO shut down six months ago and they're claiming that there's nobody around anymore who can speak to where all the money went.
According to SIGAR's report, the contract to build the gas station (to Central Asian Engineering, on land owned by the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum) was just $3 million. Yet, between 2011 and 2014, TBFSO spent more than $12 million on construction and more than $30 million on "overhead." After DOD responded to SIGAR's request with a big ol' shrug, Special Inspector General John F. Sopko noted:
"It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was shut down in March 2015."
SIGAR learned that apparently no feasibility studies were done to determine if the region had the necessary infrastructure for CNG transmission and vehicle operation (it did not). "In sum," the report concludes, "it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling project should be undertaken. … In fact, an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO found that the CNG filling station project produced no discernable economic gains and a discounted a net loss of $31 million."
Of course, Sopko is kind of deliberately playing dumb here. If he knew where all the money went and whose pockets it lined, then he'd probably know why it got built. But since the DOD won't tell him, he has to play this game.