The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Lethal Fatigues, Grounded Aircraft in Afghanistan

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


A July 30, 2017 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report noted that the U.S. has spent $714 billion in Afghanistan since 2001.  An expenditure this large is unfortunately suspect to waste, especially in a warzone.  Sure enough, over the years, examples of misuse of taxpayer money have surfaced.

The latest example was revealed in a September 20, 2017 letter from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary James Mattis, which detailed seven years of work and at least $64.8 million wasted on the ATR-42-500 aircraft.  Designed to help curb the opium trade in Afghanistan, the plane never flew a single mission. 

Despite knowing in 2013 that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was set to reduce its role in Afghanistan the following year, the office of the DoD Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats failed to halt production of the aircraft because the program was near completion.  Following the full withdrawal of the DEA from Afghanistan in 2015, the ATR-42-500 no longer had a role.  As a result, the DEA intends to repurpose or sell the plane as scrap, in compliance with DoD regulations.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, the cost of the ATR-42-500 extended beyond the price of purchasing and modifying the aircraft.  The DEA also paid $1.9 million building a hangar to store the aircraft, $1.4 million on maintenance, and $201,437 for training.

Unfortunately, this is but one example of acquisition malpractice in Afghanistan.  In 2007, the DoD began purchasing uniforms for the Afghan National Army (ANA) that incorporated a camouflage pattern owned by Hyperstealth Biotechnology Company (HBC).  These fatigues were more expensive to procure than the uniforms used by American servicemen and women because they incorporated a patented camouflage pattern, unlike the standard U.S. Army Battle Dress Uniform.  As of January 2017, approximately 1.4 million uniforms have been purchased from HBC.

The same June 2017 SIGAR report revealed that the DoD’s decision to procure the ANA uniforms was not based on an evaluation of as to whether they were suitable for use in the Afghan theater.  Even though forests comprise only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan, the DoD purchased a uniform that was designed for use in such environments.  Not only is this a waste of money, but the fatigues endanger the ANA.

According to a June 21, 2017 Washington Examiner article, former Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak purchased the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns because “he liked what he saw.”  Style should not triumph practicality on the battlefield.

The Pentagon was unable to provide any documentation proving that the forest pattern was necessary, or market research showing that similar products from other companies were inadequate.  The DoD could not even provide documentation that approved the ANA uniform specification.  The Pentagon might have just supplied the ANA with the same fatigues that U.S. soldiers use.  According to the SIGAR report, this would have been a cheaper and safer alternative.

While reckless government spending is nothing new, waste becomes far more dangerous when funds are misused in the area of defense.  Not only does this squander finite resources, it places Americans and their allies at risk.  Every dollar wasted in the war effort negatively impacts the ability of the DoD to accomplish its mission.  The Pentagon should strive to learn from these mistakes and implement safeguards to combat wasteful spending.

-- Jake George

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