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$11M Afghanistan prison likely to have to be rebuilt

Apr. 2, 2014 - 02:49PM   |  
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U.S. investigators found serious structural flaws in the $11 million-plus Baghlan prison in Afghanistan without even visiting the site.

Officials from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction say the 19-month-old facility will likely have to be completely rebuilt because of poor workmanship and inadequate materials.

Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are calling it the latest example of wasted spending in Afghanistan, which has run into billions of dollars. They’re planning to review the prison problems in a Thursday hearing, and demand answers about project oversight from the State Department.

The prison, which sits about 200 miles north of Kabul, was designed to house about 500 inmates but has already partially collapsed because of earthquakes in the area.

In his report, Inspector General John Sopko notes that much of the prison structure is comprised of unreinforced brick walls, which “can be compromised by removing the mortar between the bricks.”

That’s hazardous not only because of frequent seismic activity in the area, but because of the likelihood of escape attempts by inmates. “Structures not built to withstand such events could put life and property at significant risk,” he wrote.

SIGAR officials never visited the prison because of security concerns around the site. But the report says the flaws found were so obvious that they were apparent in building plans, material orders and recent photos taken of the campus.

The report lays blame for the unstable structure on Afghan firms that ignored international building standards. Contracts to those companies were issued through the U.S. State Department in September 2010, and work on the facility was declared finished two years later.

It’s unclear whether the Afghan contractors, the Afghanistan government or the State Department will have to pay for plans to demolish and rebuild the site, as the inspector general suggests.

But the report notes that regardless of who pays for the work, it’s likely to fail again. Documents provided by the State Department show rebuilding plans would use the same questionable materials as the first build did, which Sopko said will not fix any problems.

In 2011, the Commission on Wartime Spending estimated that the U.S. government had lost nearly $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan due to poor oversight, fraud and waste.

Since then, lawmakers have highlighted numerous other wasteful war zone projects, including $34 million for a military headquarters in southern Afghanistan that U.S. forces never intended to occupy; $5 million for a massive base trash incinerator that was never used; and millions in questionable fuel and vehicle purchases for Afghan allies. ■

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