An $800 million Department of Defense task force intended to promote Afghanistan business was an utter failure, a government watchdog told a congressional subcommittee Thursday.
The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations – a nearly $800 million investment in Afghanistan – “has generally not delivered on its stated goals,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee.
The task force’s “activities in Afghanistan were stymied by several avoidable problems and repeated mistakes from its Iraq experience,” including “a lack of strategy, leadership and coordination,” he told the subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
The task force was originally created “to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq,” Sopko said. It was redirected to Afghanistan in 2009 “in order to reduce violence, enhance stability and stimulate the economy.”
“To date, SIGAR has not been able to find credible evidence showing that TFBSO’s activities in Afghanistan produced the intended economic growth or stabilization outcomes that justified its creation,” Sopko said. “On the contrary, TFBSO’s legacy in Afghanistan is marred by unfinished, poorly planned, and ill-conceived projects.”
One such project the task force initiated was the now-infamous gas station that was budgeted for $500,000, but ultimately cost taxpayers nearly $43 million.
“This project is just one example of well-intentioned TFBSO projects that had little-to-no chance of achieving desired outcomes,” Sopko said.
Also, a “lack of strategic direction and inconsistent management resulted in a scattershot approach to economic development,” Sopko told the panel. The task force “invested in everything from importing rare blond Italian goats to bolster the cashmere industry in Herat to landmine removal.”
Based on the task force’s “own economic assessment, this inconsistent, unfocused approach has done little to spur economic growth in Afghanistan,” he continued.
Additionally, the business task force, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development “failed to coordinate their activities in several critical sectors,” Sopko told the panel. “This lack of coordination manifested itself in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of unfinished projects that failed to deliver intended outcomes.”
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