WASHINGTON — The Pentagon may have wasted as much as $28 million buying pricy forest-camouflage uniforms for Afghan troops that don’t make sense in the largely desert country, according to a new government watchdog report.
The Defense Department bought more expensive, proprietary “woodland patterns” for the Afghan National Army uniforms instead of using the DOD’s own for free, even though only 2.1 percent of the country’s total land area is covered with forest, according to a review released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, SIGAR.
The withering 17-page report implies that the Pentagon acquired the designs for the dark green uniforms from a private contractor based on a whim from the Afghan defense minister.
In 2007, the Afghan defense ministry determined it needed distinctive uniforms for its conventional forces that would make them difficult for the enemy to replicate. U.S. officials “ran across” designs from a Canadian company called HyperStealth online, and then-Defense Minister Abdul Rahim “liked what he saw,” especially the “woodland, urban and temperate patterns,” the report says. The company issued 1.1 million uniforms in “Afghan Forest” patterns, according to its website.
The decision “was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment,” SIGAR says, and added between $26 million and $28 million to the cost of procuring uniforms.
“As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the (Afghan National Army) uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy,” the review states.
Some of the uniforms’ features — including zippers instead of buttons, hook and loop fasteners and additional pockets — made them more difficult and expensive to produce. According to the report, the U.S. government already had the rights to several very similar uniform patterns that were not being used by American troops, and could have been used by the Afghan National Army for free.
Between November 2008 and January 2017, the Pentagon spent approximately $94 million to procure 1,364,602 uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants for the Afghan National Army in the proprietary pattern, according to SIGAR’s review.
The summer and winter uniforms ranged from $45 to $80 per set, a jump from the 2007 estimate that they would cost between $25 and $30 per uniform, according to the report.
Changing the uniforms used by Afghan troops could save “could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years,” SIGAR says. The watchdog called on the Pentagon to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to figure out a more effective, and cheaper, alternative. After they reviewed the report last month, defense officials “expressed general agreement with the contents of the draft report,” SIGAR said.
The U.S. is spending $3.1 billion a month in Afghanistan as its longest foreign war stretches into its 16th year. It has committed $66 billion to equipping and supporting Afghan security forces, supplying them with fuel, ammunition and weapons to fight Taliban insurgents. As American and coalition forces have retreated to an advisory role, letting Afghan forces take the lead in securing the country, the Taliban has resurged in the region. This has been complicated by the rise of militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan who have rebranded themselves as the Islamic State in Khorasan.
Earlier this year, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, described the current military situation against the Taliban as a “stalemate” that will require thousands more troops.
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