The Defense Department continues to rebuff investigation attempts by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction into a business task force that may have wasted $800 million.

A June 17 letter signed by Principal Deputy Defense Under Secretary for Policy Brian McKeon states DOD will not answer SIGAR‘s questions about a $43 million gas utilization project because the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which enabled the project, closed in March. As a result, DOD no longer possesses “the personnel expertise to address these questions or assess properly the TFBSO documentation retained by” Washington Headquarters Services.

SIGAR had requested in a May 18 letter that DOD respond to questions about a compressed national gas (CNG) station run by the TFBSO that investigators believe was pointless.

The natural gas station was intended to establish and grow the Afghan CNG sector for transport, industrial and energy security solutions and for use by the city’s 100,000 registered cars. However, there is only one natural gas pipeline providing gas to Mazar-e-Sharif and it is only safe to operate at “minimal” pressure, according to the May 18 letter. Construction for a planned new pipeline never started, and about $6.5 million worth of new pipe is sitting in storage. The project cannot be completed unless the Afghan Gas Enterprise pays up to $16 million for its completion, according to SIGAR.

In addition, the gas station cannot be used by the city’s cars because they do not run on natural gas and only the city’s wealthiest citizens can afford to convert their vehicles.

This is not the first time SIGAR‘s efforts to investigate TFBSO have been thwarted.

SIGAR chief John Sopko said during a June 9 breakfast with reporters in Washington that he was informed by DOD that the department would not answer questions about TFBSO because the organization is no longer functioning and has not staff at the Pentagon to respond to official inquires.

“We just can’t believe [it] — you mean there is nobody in the Pentagon who can answer how $800 million was spent?” Sopko said. “It’s amazing, it’s like ‘Where did everybody go?’ There is no historical knowledge in that big building? I can just not fathom that.”

Despite the lack of cooperation from DOD, SIGAR plans to release its second report at the end of July on the TFBSO’s involvement in the Afghan mining industry. The first report released in April found that half a billion dollars in investments to develop Afghanistan’s mineral, oil and gas industries could potentially be wasted because TFBSO lacked long-term goals and sustainability plans.

Sopko said three or four small reports would be released this fall, which will be capped off by an overall report on the alleged shortcomings of TFBSO and the management structure that enabled them.

SIGAR did not have any immediate comment on the letter from DOD and said it will likely address the issue in its final report on CNG. — Scott Maucione

Inside Washington Publishers

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