Pentagon Blew $150M on Afghan Villas, Fine Dining
Cost would have been closer to ... nothing, had staff stayed at military base
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2015 10:19 AM CST
In this June 10, 2014, file photo, John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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(Newser) – First the Pentagon poured $43 million into an Afghan gas station that should've cost $500,000. Now it's under fire for putting up a "handful" of staff and visitors in private Afghan villas, as well as shelling out for private bodyguards and fine dining—running up a taxpayer tab of around $150 million, USA Today reports. In a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan's Reconstruction questioned the Task Force for Business Stability and Operations' need for "western-style hotel accommodations" that included flat-screen TVs (of at least 27 inches), food service of at least three stars, and private security services. "If [task force] 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," IG John Sopko wrote.

The TFBSO was formed in 2006 to help boost economic development in Iraq, eventually stretching to include Afghanistan in 2009, Mother Jones notes; the unit shuttered in March. The bill, which USA Today notes made up 20% of the task force's budget, took care of "no more than five to 10" staff members and could have been significantly reduced via other alternatives: Sopko says putting up a staff of 10 at the US Embassy in Afghanistan in 2014 would have cost about $1.8 million, while a stay at a local military base would have cost next to nothing. Sopko implicates ex-TFBSO chief Paul Brinkley for the excesses and being uncooperative with SIGAR; Brinkley denies ever being contacted by SIGAR. Sopko's letter, which Bloomberg notes is his second attempt to get an accounting, has also requested names of those who holed up in the villas, per USA Today. (Check out Sopko's full letter.)
 

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