Exclusive: U.S. Spends Scores of Millions Annually on Unused Afghan Buildings

The U.S. government is spending $110 million a year operating several hundred unused buildings for Afghanistan’s government, CQ has learned.

In May, lawmakers erupted in outrage upon learning that Americans purchased a $36 million facility at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan that went unused. Now, it turns out, U.S. taxpayers not only have bought costly installations that serve no purpose but are also footing the bill on an ongoing basis for utilities and repairs at 366 “excess” buildings, which Afghan security forces no longer use but have yet to demolish, sell or give away.

The disclosure about the number of unused buildings is buried in the latest report to Congress from John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The document will be made public Thursday. The cost of operating the buildings was provided by the audit office in response to a CQ query.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers decried the fruitless spending.

“The U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for buildings that aren’t doing anybody any good,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, in a statement to CQ.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in a brief interview, called paying millions to operate unneeded buildings “the kind of massive waste that just drives taxpayers crazy.”

The new audit report also details a familiar litany of other questionable U.S. spending in Afghanistan. It recounts, for example, that the country still leads the world in opium sales despite America allocating billions to curb it. The report details a degradation in readiness among Afghan security forces, despite billions in U.S. funds spent to enhance the Afghan units' capability.

But the extent of the costly, excess buildings had not previously been disclosed.

All told, the U.S. has spent about $110 billion rebuilding Afghanistan, with some $15 billion appropriated but not yet spent, on top of $700 billion for U.S. military operations in the country, Sopko has said.

Attaching Strings

The U.S. military command responsible for training and equipping Afghan forces is trying to force the government there to get rid of the 366 unnecessary buildings. American officials are conditioning some U.S. aid to Kabul’s taking action on the issue.

“We are in the process of working with the Ministries of Defense and Interior to identify which bases/facilities they will divest, when and the final disposition,” said Col. Tom Tickner, a senior official with the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, in a written response to a query.

Lawmakers lauded the efforts, especially the attachment of strings to U.S. aid.

“I appreciate the military leaders who are looking out for the taxpayers,” Grassley said. “It makes sense to put conditions on continuing aid if that will bring about decisions on what to do with unused buildings.”

McCaskill said Sopko is doing a “great job” uncovering problems.

Questions on Transferred Bases

Sopko is not just worried about building bases that aren’t needed and continuing to pay for the operation of bases that have outlived their usefulness. He's also focused on the capacity of Afghan security forces to use facilities donated by the U.S. government that Afghans do, in fact, need.

In April, Sopko wrote Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter asking what controls are in place to ensure what is transferred to Afghan forces from 813 former U.S. military bases is properly used and doesn’t fall under control of insurgents.

"Given the substantial expense associated with their construction and their potential either to go unused by the ANSF or to be compromised by insurgent forces, I am seeking information regarding the processes the Department of Defense (DOD) follows when transferring these bases," Sopko wrote in the previously unpublicized letter.

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