So much for nation building. A multibillion-dollar U.S. program for strengthening Afghan military and security forces, so that 100,000 American troops can come home, hasn’t even succeeded at building building.
A series of McClatchy Newspapers reports published in these pages last week added up to an appalling story of incompetence, lax to nonexistent oversight and flagrant fraud in U.S.-funded construction projects in Afghanistan.
After an extended recession, precious American dollars are in some cases reduced literally to rubble as schools, clinics, roads, bridges, military and police structures are either so badly constructed as to be useless, or abandoned completely after being underbid by firms unequipped to finish the job. And because the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t require performance bonds from contractors, the subcontractors don’t get paid and projects don’t get finished. An Afghan contractor “suddenly realizes he’s not going to make it, takes the money and doesn’t pay the subcontractor and leaves,” one project manager told McClatchy. “Most of the stories are like that.”
The stories are also infuriatingly familiar echoes of financial scandals here in the U.S.:
Some of the companies doing lousy work keep getting new contracts anyway. American taxpayer money goes to firms with murky ownership, making accountability all but impossible. Firms continue to get large contracts despite tax defaults and other serious legal problems. One American company receiving a contract for more than $640 million initially, and that could eventually be worth up to $6 billion, is under investigation for overbilling the military for food services.
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