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Army Builds Unused Base in Afghanistan

The U.S. Army is under scrutiny for authorizing the construction of a $36 million complex in Afghanistan that sits empty.

The 64,000-square-foot building in Camp Leatherneck in the southwestern part of the country "contains spacious offices, a briefing theater and an operations center with tiered seating" and can accommodate 1,500 people, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post reported Dec. 4.

So what's the problem?

For one, there are only 400 headquarters-level staff on the entire base, according to the article. Two, the building was apparently erected in 2010 against the recommendations of the top Marine Corps commander in the region, then-Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the newspaper reported. Three, the Army general who overrode Mills' objections, then-Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, was later promoted and is now the Army's top inspector general tasked with ferreting out wasteful spending in the service, according to the article.

Let's also not forget that the U.S. is considering withdrawing entirely from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Unfortunately, wasteful or questionable spending of taxpayer dollars isn't rare in the war-torn country. The U.S. over the past decade has spent almost $100 billion to help rebuild Afghanistan, according to the latest quarterly report from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko.

While it's hard to say how much of that was lost, it's clear the number isn't trivial.

In the more than a year that Sopko has been on the job, he and his team of investigators have examined projects, programs and other expenditures with an estimated total value of more than $10.6 billion; of that, almost two-thirds -- $6.7 billion -- is "at risk of waste, fraud and abuse," according to an e-mailed statement from a spokesman, Philip LaVelle.

In one case alone, the U.S. and its NATO allies couldn't account for about $230 million in vehicle spare parts for the Afghan National Security Forces, according to the quarterly report.

The special inspector general's office, known in government parlance as SIGAR, has posted numerous photos of the unused Army base in Helmand Province on its flickr page, along with a July 8 letter Sopko wrote raising alarms about the project  to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of Central Command; and Army Gen. Joseph Dunford, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is set to fall to about 34,000 by February as part of a plan to withdrawal American and allied combat forces by the end of next year.

U.S. and Afghan officials recently hammered out a security pact to leave a contingent of American troops in the country after 2014 to help train local security forces. But the U.S. may pull out entirely after Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to not sign the agreement unless the U.S. ends military operations on Afghan homes and begins a "meaningful start" to the peace process.

Dunford hasn't yet decided whether to support an investigation led by Army Maj. Gen. James Richardson that found that building the facility "was appropriate," The Post reported.

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