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Fraud fouls up fight against IEDs in Afghanistan

Jul. 24, 2013 - 09:13AM   |  
MRAPs protect troops against roadside bombs.
MRAPs protect troops against roadside bombs. (Tim Sloan / AFP / Getty Images)
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A key aspect of the military’s effort to protect troops from roadside bombs has been sabotaged from within, according to a report by Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghanistan.

A $32-million effort begun in 2009 to seal off culverts to prevent insurgents from using them as hiding places for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been plagued by fraud and may have resulted in several U.S. troops being killed or wounded, the report notes. The inspector general found that Afghan contractors took money to construct the barriers, and in some cases did no work. U.S. contracting officers didn’t do enough to ensure the work was done.

Culverts, pipes that run beneath roads for drainage, are common in rural areas in eastern and southern Afghanistan. In some places, they can be found every few hundred feet. They’re a natural spot to conceal bombs to attack military vehicles.

Two Afghan contractors billed the U.S. government $1 million to seal 250 culverts and failed to install the devices or did so improperly. An Afghan contractor and subcontractor have been charged with fraud and negligent homicide.

“There is insufficient evidence to show that culvert denial systems paid for with U.S. government funds were ever installed or, if they were, that the systems were installed properly,” notes the report, which was released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The inspector general also blasted Pentagon contracting officers for not assuring the work was done properly.

“It is simply not acceptable to spend taxpayer money on a contract when the contracting officer has no way to verify that the contract has been fulfilled,” the report notes.

The inspector general recommended better quality control of the work and oversight of contractors.

Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress should seek better oversight of the programs.

“With billions of taxpayer dollars at stake and American lives hanging in the balance, we owe it to our service members and their families to do everything in our power to protect them while serving in harm’s way,” he said in a statement.

Afghan farmers often tear up even new road to lay drainage pipes connecting fields. In 2009, a counter-IED unit based in Jalalabad responded to the report of an IED shoved deep inside such a culvert. A small robot with a camera was sent to probe the bomb.

Then an explosive-ordnance solider, who had lost a leg in Iraq dismantling a bomb, donned heavy protective clothing on a 120-degree July day and went in to investigate. Eventually, he found about 40 pounds of homemade explosive rigged to explode when a vehicle passed over the culvert.

The U.S. troops, traveling in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks, might have survived such a blast. Their comrades in the Afghan security forces, riding in the back of a Ford Ranger pickup, would not.

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