A gas station was built in Afghanistan at the cost of $43 million. The astronomical sum was part of $800 million set aside for a taskforce that had been tasked with the development of the region. Bizarrely, the Department of Defense (DOD) has refused to offer any further information about the now-defunct taskforce that was allotted the means to revive Afghanistan’s economy.
At $43 million, the gas station in Afghanistan might easily be the world’s most expensive, though it looks pretty standard. Calling it a gross misuse of taxpayer money, a report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, has exposed the ludicrous spending by the now-defunct taskforce that was setup in the last decade to improve Afghanistan’s economy, help it become self-reliant and accord opportunities for betterment of the region. Sopko was personally appointed by President Obama in 2012 to keep a close watch on spending in Afghanistan,
and he submitted the report late last month.
Though the intentions of ‘Task Force for Business and Stability Operations’, were noble, it appears to have spent almost 140 times the money it takes to build a gas station in the region. A similar gas station in neighboring Pakistan costs about $300,000 to construct, reported CNN. Considering the current exchange rates, the gas station in Afghanistan would have cost about $306,000, wrote Sopko to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in a report,
“Although TFBSO achieved its immediate objective of building the CNG filling station, it apparently did so at an exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers. In comparison, SIGAR found that a CNG filling station in Pakistan costs no more than $500,000 to construct.”
The discovery is part of a much broader investigation which deals with widespread allegations of criminal activity within the DOD’s premiere program to kick-start the Afghan economy, said Sopko,
“We have received more allegations about this program than we have received about any other program in Afghanistan.”
The taskforce ended in March 2015. Reports indicate it had an operational budget of about $800 million, reported Fox News. However, what’s deeply concerning is DOD’s stoic silence. The agency’s failure to answer questions and claims that the Task Force’s employees no longer work for the DOD is bizarre, said Sopko,
“I have never in my lifetime seen the Department of Defense or any government agency clam up and claim they don’t know anything about a program. Who’s in charge? Why won’t they talk?”
In one of the biggest ironies, the gas station built in Afghanistan wasn’t meant to sell regular gasoline products. The gas station was intended to help Afghanistan curb its dependence on foreign petroleum products and take advantage of domestic energy, reported MSN. In other words, DOD intended to offer Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to car owners in the region.
CNG is a much cleaner fuel than gasoline and burns better. However, majority of the cars that ply on Afghan roads, similar to the rest of the world, run on gasoline. To make the cars accept CNG as a fuel, they have to be fitted with special conversion kits, a rather expensive proposition for an average Afghanistan citizen, pointed out the report:
“The cost of converting gasoline-powered cars to run on natural gas may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. The cost to do so is estimated at about $700 per car, while the average annual income in Afghanistan is $690.”
Under such circumstances, it is not clear why did the taskforce build a gas station that would offer CNG, questioned Sopko,
“The Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome.”
The only justifiable reason the taskforce had, to build a gas station in Afghanistan, is CNG costs almost half of regular gasoline there because of huge gas reserves.
[Photo by Qureshi, Aamir / Getty Images, SIGAR]