U.S. investigators are widening a criminal investigation into whether Afghan contractors failed to install barriers to protect troops from improvised bombs or billed for substandard work.
The inquiry stems from the killing of two American soldiers in July on a highway in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan contractor didn’t install grates that could have prevented insurgents from planting bombs in culverts carrying water under roadways, according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The probe is being expanded beyond Ghazni province based on evidence that failure to install the barriers or shoddy work on the U.S.-financed “culvert denial systems” may be widespread, John Sopko, the inspector general, said in an e-mail and in a speech this month in Washington.
“We launched a criminal investigation and have been working closely with the military and Afghan authorities to bring those responsible to justice,” said Sopko, whose office is an independent agency created by Congress to oversee U.S. spending in Afghanistan.
Congress has appropriated almost $89 billion since 2002 for reconstruction of Afghanistan. The U.S. is working with Afghan security forces and the judicial system to prepare for the departure of most American and allied forces by December 2014.
“While there has been major progress” in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, the country’s “reputation for corruption is deep-rooted and widespread, Sopko said in a report released today. The wrongdoing ‘‘involves many foreigners, including U.S. commissioned and non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel, federal civilians, contractors, and subcontractors,’’ he said.
The president of the company involved in the Ghazni province incident was arrested last weekend by the Afghan attorney general’s office on evidence developed by the inspector general and the U.S. military, according to Sopko’s office.
‘‘The prompt reporting of this dangerous situation by U.S. commanders enabled us to move quickly and issue an alert letter” in October, Sopko said.
Sopko’s investigators this month participated with U.S. troops in operations to survey roads and clear improvised bombs.
The inspector general’s Special Projects unit will conduct a “targeted evaluation” of systems installation throughout the country over the next four months.
Colonel Thomas Collins, a U.S. Army spokesman in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail that the U.S. hired a different company to complete the work in Ghazni province.
The first company “improperly installed” 122 grates along part of Highway 1 between Ghazni City and the border of Wardak Province, the inspector general said. It was paid $361,680 under the contract.
Instead of using concrete to anchor the grates, the company relied on “spot welding, making it easier for insurgents to tamper with them.”
The company “also fraudulently submitted misleading photographs claiming that culverts had protection work installed when in fact no work had been completed,” the inspector general said.