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Afghanistan Road Still Incomplete After 12 Years, $249 Million Spent

U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Artur Shvartsberg

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A single road project in Afghanistan, funded in part by grants from the U.S. government, is still incomplete after 12 years and $249 million spent, and inspectors aren’t hopeful that it will ever be completed.

The Ring Road construction project, started in 2005, has been “plagued by security challenges, poor contractor performance, and a lack of capacity” in the Afghanistan government’s ability to manage large contracts, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report released Wednesday.

The Afghan Ministry of Public Works had spent $249 million of five separate grants from the Asian Development Fund, totaling $721 million between 2005 and September 2017. The U.S. is the second-largest contributor to the international fund, committing over $4 billion.

The project was supposed to cover a 145-mile stretch of the massive ring road that would go around the interior of Afghanistan. The incomplete portion lies between Qeysar and Laman on the western part of the country, and the security situation over the past 12 years has been abysmal.

Work on the project came to a standstill after three local staff working with an engineering consultancy were abducted and one was killed in November 2008. Sixteen employees of a subcontractor on the project were abducted a month after the work was suspended in February 2009. (RELATED: Army Wastes $60 Million On Defunct Power Project For Rural Afghanistan)

Only 15 percent of the road section had been completed in September 2017 — about 22 miles — and work had been stalled for over two years, indicating that the finished portions have probably degraded.

The road also suffered due to poor contractor performance. The Afghan government had to cancel a $36.9-million contract with China Shiniju Rail, a company controlled by the Chinese government, in 2009 partly because it couldn’t pay the company on time, and didn’t renew a contract with Sheladia Associates, based in Rockville, Maryland, due to contract performance issues.

The project then went to a joint venture between California-based ECCI and Metag İnşaat Ticaret or EMJV, a Turkish company. The Afghan government was behind in paying the soldiers responsible for protecting the project, and the security situation further degraded when the contractor destroyed buildings in their path, the SIGAR report noted.

“The contractor has demolished [sic] number of houses and local buildings without any previous community and environmental development work causing serious damage to the environment and population. This has also caused unrest in the local population for which EMJV is responsible,” SIGAR stated in reference to an August 2014 Afghan Ministry of Public Works report.

The Asian Development Bank approved an additional $150 million in funding to restart the project in December 2017, with a representative from the U.S. voting in favor of the cash influx.

“While we hope for success … we are left without any indication that the circumstances have improved sufficiently to warrant a high degree of confidence that the project will be completed, that more money will not be wasted, or that more security incidents will not occur,” SIGAR concluded.

All the blame for the failing project is placed on the Afghan government. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, which oversees America’s role in the Asian Development Bank, has no oversight role in the project management.

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