Pentagon Task Force Spent Nearly $150M on Villas and 3-Star Meals in Afghanistan

The inspector general wants to know why a task force charged with developing the Afghan economy spent 20 percent of its budget on private villas, security guards and luxury meals.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is asking why a small Department of Defense task force charged with developing the Afghan economy spent nearly $150 million on private villas, security guards and luxury meals while operating in the country between 2010 and 2014.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made public Thursday, SIGAR chief John Sopko wrote that members of the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) could have used accommodations available on local military bases and other U.S. government facilities, adding that it was “unclear what benefit the U.S. received as the result of TFBSO’s decision.”

From 2009 until it was disbanded this year, TFBSO was entrusted with rebuilding post-war Afghanistan’s business infrastructure, receiving roughly $766 million from Congress to do so.

Amazingly, former TFBSO employees told SIGAR investigators that the $150 million spent on accommodations in Afghanistan — fully 20 percent of the task force’s total budget — supported “no more than 5 to 10” employees.

The now-defunct task force is currently at the center of a number of controversies related to its handling of finances in Afghanistan. In November, SIGAR investigators reviewing the task force’s finances found that it had spent $43 million building a single gas station in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, roughly 140 times more than what analysts say the project should have cost. The TFBSO has also come under fire for spending $282 million on Afghan mining and oil and gas projects without developing long-term strategies for actually sustaining such industries in the country.

In its letter, SIGAR said that task force employees had solicited military contractor Triple Canopy to provide rooming for them that included “Western-style hotel accommodations,” such as flat-screen televisions, mini-refrigerators and DVD players. Contractors were also hired to provide food service that was “at least 3 stars,” specifying that each meal contain “at least two entree choices and three side order choices.” Triple Canopy was also instructed to ensure that three-course meals were available for “special events.”

Triple Canopy is one of the firms that have financially benefited the most from post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning roughly $2.2 billion in government contracts since 2003, according to the Project on Government Oversight. The company has continued to receive lucrative government contracts despite being at the center of several controversies related to the killing of civilians in Iraq by its employees and providing falsified documents for its private security guards.

Another contractor cited in the SIGAR letter, the Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise, is said to have earned over $40 million providing transportation services to TFSBO members, though past reporting has indicated that the small Native American tribal-owned firm largely subcontracts its work out to other providers.

In the letter, SIGAR notes that members of the task force could have stayed at military facilities for little or no charge, or they could have lived at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan for an estimated cost of $1.8 million in 2014. SIGAR stated that there was no evidence to indicate that any cost-benefit analysis had been done before instead eschewing these options and awarding lucrative contracts to private firms.

The decision to hire the contractors is believed to have originated with former deputy undersecretary of defense and TFSBO director Paul Brinkley, who said last year that task force members “avoided living on military bases … to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.”

Before joining the Department of Defense in 2004 during the Bush administration, Brinkley worked as an executive for Silicon Valley firms like Nortel Networks and the communications equipment company JDS Uniphase. In 2007, he was investigated by the military on allegations of financial mismanagement and personal misconduct while based in Iraq, but continued serving in government until 2011.

Since leaving public service, Brinkley has returned to the private sector. He now works as president and CEO of North American Western Asia Holdings — a private equity firm focused on investing and business development in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Top Photo: Task force villa in Kabul

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