The military has likely wasted $34 million on a new 1,500-person headquarters it will never use in the embattled Helmand Province of Afghanistan, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.
"I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction
project that should have been stopped," wrote John Sopko with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in a letter to the Department of Defense.
The 64,000-square foot Regional Command-Southwest Command and Control Facility was designed to accommodate a surge of forces in that part of Afghanistan, which has experienced some of the most intense fighting in the 12 years of war. SIGAR reports commanders determined the facility was unnecessary in 2010, but proceeded with construction.
The facility will likely be demolished or turned over to the Afghan government, according to Sopko. The latter option, however, would require a "major overhaul" of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and conversion to the Afghan electrical configuration to make it useable to the local government. The report does not estimate how much this overhaul would cost.
"Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling," he writes. "Destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a 'white elephant' to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain."
Sopko toured the facility and describes it as among the most well constructed he has ever seen in Afghanistan.
The building was designed to house a U.S. backed division of troops that commanders knew would never arrive in country. Inexplicably, Sopko writes, the plans went forward.
"Military officials explained this is an example of what is wrong with military construction in general -- once a project is started, it is very difficult to stop."
The facility includes a war room, briefing theater and offices for senior military officials.
Camp Leatherneck, the base of operations for Helmand Province, continues to shrink as more U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown. SIGAR says that could leave this new facility outside of the protective wire at some point.
Sopko has requested further information from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, including who authorized the construction and why it wasn't stopped sooner.