A U.S. military investigation found no wrongdoing in a decision to keep building a $25 million regional headquarters in Afghanistan that local commanders said they didn’t need or want.
The 64,000-square-foot command headquarters in Helmand province, approved as part of a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2009, has a war room, a briefing theater and enough office space for 1,500 people.
The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, criticized the project in July, saying he was “deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.”
Army Major General James Richardson, a deputy commander of United States Forces-Afghanistan, found “no evidence” that proceeding with construction amounted to any “violation of law or regulation,” according to a memo obtained today on his investigation of the project at the request of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Sopko had said the headquarters risked becoming a “white elephant” to the Afghan government when most U.S. and allied forces depart by the end of next year. The inspector general has issued a stream of reports that he says show waste and mismanagement of U.S. spending in the country.
As early as April 2010, the local Marine commander of the region found the project “was no longer necessary to execute the mission” and requested its cancellation, according to Richardson’s report.
Army Central, which oversees the Middle East and Afghanistan region, rejected the recommendation, according to Richardson. It concluded it made more sense to finish the project than to scrap it and build a smaller brigade-sized facility that local commanders had requested.
While Sopko had pegged the project’s cost at $34 million, the actual price for the headquarters building is $25 million, up from an initial estimate of about $13.5 million, according to Richardson’s report.
“The final disposition of the facility remains undetermined but its long-term use has not been ruled out,” Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said in an e-mailed statement.