Pentagon officials in Afghanistan have been living lavish, spending more than $150 million on beautiful villas, private security, and five-star hotel amenities instead of living on military bases – and watchdogs want to know why.
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) , says about 20 percent of the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) budget was spent on off-base accommodations. And in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Sopko asks for an explanation for the apparently superfluous expenditures.
“SIGAR’s preliminary review indicates that TFBSO leadership rented specially furnished, privately owned 'villas' and hired contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services, and bodyguards for TFBSO staff and visitors traveling in country,” Sopko wrote. “The contractors lived in TFBSO facilities, arranged transportation, and provided security details when TFBSO personnel traveled outside their compounds.4 If TFBSO employees had instead lived at DOD facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security, and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DOD organizations, it appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars.”
And the cuisine was reportedly excellent.
“In terms of food, Triple Canopy was required to provide service that was ‘at least three stars’, with each meal containing at least two entrée choices and three side order choices, as well as three course meals for ‘special events,'” Sopko wrote.
In the letter, Sopko quotes Paul A. Brinkley, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and TFBSO's first director, who said the reason for the fancy furnishings was to make Afghanistan more appealing to private investors and corporations.
“Our goal was to get businesses running and to encourage private investors and corporations from outside of Afghanistan to engage in the country either as trading partners or as investors,” Brinkley said. “Wherever possible, we avoided depending on the military. We were part of their mission . . . but we avoided living on military bases whenever possible. The goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.”
Sopko is still waiting for a response.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Sowers, a Department of Defense spokesman, told the Guardian: “We have received the recent letter from Sigar and will respond.”