Pentagon spends $43 million to build gas station, won't say why

Paid for by US taxpayers, this Afghan gas station costs more than 140 times that of a similar project in Pakistan. So far the Pentagon is refusing to explain the costs. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A gas station attendant fills up a car with gasoline in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2012.

A gas station in Afghanistan sponsored by the US government cost tens of millions in tax dollars to construct, but so far the federal government is refusing to say why.

A federal watchdog report showed the natural gas filling station totaled a whopping $43 million to build, a rate far exceeding a similar Pakistani project that cost just $500,000, or about $306,000 at current exchange rates, The Washington Post reports.

Overhead costs along for the project in Afghanistan’s came in at $30 million, a figure that remains unaccountable because of an uncooperative federal agency, according to John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

His report released this week cited a flurry of unwarranted costs that he said could be criminal. But the Pentagon has apparently stonewalled attempts by his outfit to obtain information on the spending, Sopko said.

“One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation or outcome,” he wrote, in a letter to the Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The agency in charge of constructing the station, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, was launched in 2009 and once had oversight of more than $800 million for redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was shut down earlier this year. 

In 2011, Central Asian Engineering was awarded a $3 million contract to build the natural gas station on land owned by Afghanistan’s government. The report said it spent $42,718,739 over a three-year period.

More than $12 million of the figure was slated “to supervise the initial operations of the CNG station.” Overall, the price should have cost between $200,000 and $500,000, the report noted.

“It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000 percent more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a senior members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, in a statement. “Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that’s been wasted.”

The US Department of State has a history of questionable financial practices. In 2003, the agency drew criticism for dispersing $12 billion in funds meant for rebuilding Iraq in suitcases filled with cash, some of which were handed out from the backs of pickup trucks.

McCaskill lodged complaints against the federal government for funding the construction of a $36 million command post in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a facility that was never used. 

This is also not Sopko’s first investigation into misplaced money by the federal government. In October last year he wrote Secretary of State John Kerry to call attention to the purchase of three mobile television trucks donated to Afghan television networks, which were given out two years late at a total cost of $6 million.

The purpose of the vehicles was to broadcast live sports like soccer, cricket and buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport, similar to polo, in which men on horseback drag a headless goat for points.





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