Get ready for a scandal.
A bombshell report has been released by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the military's top Afghanistan watchdog group, asking the Pentagon to explain how a small handful of officers managed to spend $150 million on private villas and outside security companies from 2009 to 2014.
Whistleblowing members of the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations told the auditors that "no more than 5 to 10" military personnel were housed in the lavish homes at any given time. The operation was formed to foster economic development as part of a greater effort to rebuild Afghanistan, but ended up spending about 20% of its budget on the villas and private security, the report found.
The lavish details of the villas are bound to ruffle feathers in Washington, much as they did last month when the watchdog exposed how the same task force managed to spend $43 million building a single gas station in the country.
From the report:
Triple Canopy [a private vendor] provided TFBSO personnel with queen size beds in certain rooms, a flat screen TV in each room that was 27 inches or larger, a DVD player in each room, a mini refrigerator in each room, and an “investor villa” that had “upgraded furniture” and “western-style hotel accommodations.” In terms of food, Triple Canopy was required to provide service that was “at least 3 stars,” with each meal containing at least two entrée choices and three side order choices, as well as three course meals for “Special Events.”
The officers who lived in the homes did so rather than staying on military bases, which is the usual protocol. "If TFBSO employees had instead lived at DOD facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security, and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DOD organizations, it appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars," the report found.
"We are concerned that this may be yet another example of U.S. government officials not looking out for the American taxpayer," John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said in an emailed statement. "[We have] received more allegations about TFBSO than any other program in Afghanistan."
Criminal investigations into the task force are currently under way.
The task force seized operating in Afghanistan in December of 2014, and it was permanently shut down earlier this year.
Citing the fact that the task force was shut down, the Pentagon has told the watchdog group that it no longer has the personnel with sufficient expertise to explain the extraordinary expenses.
The watchdog suggests that the decision not to live on military bases likely came from a Paul A. Brinkley, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and TFBSO's first director. “Wherever possible, we avoided depending on the military," he has explained in the past, according to the report. "The goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.”
However, the Pentagon has stonewalled the inspector's general office when it comes to auditing and explaining the expenses.
“There are few things in this job that literally make my jaw drop,” Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter last month, responding to the report of the $43 million gas station built by the same task force.
She called for senior members of the Pentagon to appear before the subcommittee for questioning.
"The Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that’s been wasted—an unacceptable lack of transparency that I’ll be thoroughly investigating," McCaskill said.
As of now, the Pentagon has not yet been questioned before the committee. Following today's news, we can expect even louder calls in the near future.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.