Friday, November 06, 2015

$43 Million Gas Station In A Remote Part Of Afghanistan-- Paid For With American Tax Dollars


I'm not in the least bit mechanically inclined. I came to terms with it before I even went to high school. Not too many years after high school, though, I was driving a brand new VW van down the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to Katmandu. A few days ago I mentioned how when my friends checked into the Kabul InterContinental just outside town-- I slept in the van nearby-- they were among the very first guests at the largely empty, just-completed, first luxury hotel in Afghanistan. Before we got there, though, there was, basically, the whole country to cross. There are no railroads in Afghanistan, with the exception of about 10 miles built in the early 1980s, connecting Mazar-i-Sharif to the small Uzbek city of Termez, last heard from when it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. Before the Russians built a 2 lane paved highway from Kabul to Mazar to Herat (the northern part of the "ring road") and the U.S. built a 2 lane paved highway from Herat to Kandahar to Kabul (the southern part of the "ring road"), the only way people went to Afghanistan was on horseback, usually as part of an army. I was driving me niceness VW van along that just-built highway.

I had befriended a U.S. consul in Tehran-- a relatively lonely outpost-- and he gave me all kinds of useful tips about the trip east to Afghanistan, the two most important being that all water had it be boiled twice if one hopes to survive and that under no circumstances could a motor vehicle be on the road at night if one hopes to survive. The water thing is probably clear enough; the night-driving had to do with bandits, a quaint term that would be called "terrorists" in modern parlance. The gas stations in Afghanistan at the time were few and far between-- how far? Basically they were spaced so that you were just about to run out of gas as you pulled into one. Long story short, I didn't run out of gas between the station in Herat and the station in Kandahar... but my van broke down. I'm the mechanically dis-inclined American, but none the European or Canadian passengers knew any more about fixing a car than I did. An hour went by and no other vehicle passed. I could tell it would be dark soon. Dark = bandits = car-stripping murderers. So I taught myself how to fix the car, at least fix it enough to get to the next gas station as we were running out of gas. (The 1969 VW engine was incredibly simple and trial and error worked incredibly well in this instance.)

Eventually the decades of war destroyed the roads and they were rebuilt a few times, the most recent by the U.S.... or the U.S. taxpayers to be more precise. And that includes gas stations, one of which has come to the attention of the public as a huge waste of money. Short version: this gas station in Sheberghan, hometown of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and capital of Jowzjan province way up north in the Russian sphere of influence, west of Mazar-i-Sharif and Balkh, cost $43 million to build. NBC reported that the The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is flipping out because the Department of Defense can't or won't explain why it cost that much.
"Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme," SIGAR said in a report issued Monday.

The agency's top official went further.

"It's an outrageous waste of money that raises suspicions that there is something more there than just stupidity," John Sopko, the special inspector general, told NBC News. "There may be fraud. There may be corruption. But I cannot currently find out more about this because of the lack of cooperation."

...[A] contract for just under $3 million was awarded to a company called Central Asian Engineering in 2011. According to SIGAR, an economic impact assessment found the task force spent well beyond that-- $42,718,730-- between 2011 and 2014 to fund the station's construction and supervise its initial operation.

A CNG filling station "would have cost no more than $500,000 in neighboring Pakistan," the report noted, calculating the "exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers" at 140 times higher than it should have been.

Sopko told NBC News it appeared that "nobody was minding the store."

"This is one of the worst examples of poor planning and just sheer stupidity," Sopko told NBC News. "It's outrageous."

He called the cost "indicative of a real serious mismanagement" but said perhaps the "more serious" issue was how the Department of Defense had failed to offer documentation or records on the project.

"I'm suspicious when I see something that cost 140 times more than it did and I find people trying to withhold or not cooperate with me," Sopko said. "It raises my suspicions."
Although Barbara Lee was the only Member of Congress wise enough to see tat the time, there was never any chance that the U.S. would "win" in Afghanistan. The invasion and occupation has been an unmitigated--and inevitable-- disaster. Thank God someone is suspicious of this particular gas station boondoggle. This is certainly part of the so-called "fog of war" and it may be inevitable, another reason to pull all U.S. forces out of that hellhole and to completely oppose expanding the U.S. Middle East wars into Syria. I asked Alan Grayson what he thought about it a few days ago and he replied that he never knew Shelley meant that those "vast and trunkless legs of stone" were actually a gas station. Are you a Breaking Bad fan at all?

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