U.S. Lost $60 Million on Afghan Power Project That Doesn't Work

The U.S. spent $60 million on a power system in Afghanistan that is not operational and has produced an unusable high-voltage system with towers in danger of collapse on land where Afghans live and farm. SIGAR Handout

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent $60 million trying to bring power to remote parts of Afghanistan, but has produced an unusable high voltage system with towers in danger of collapse on land where Afghans live and farm and that may put Afghan lives at risk, according to a report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The war in Afghanistan is America's longest running war and has cost more than $800 billion, a price tag that has been repeatedly revealed to be rife with cost overruns, local corruption and other debacles.

Congress created the oversight office in 2008 to monitor billions that were being appropriated to bring relief and reconstruction to the war-torn nation. Since its creation, the SIGAR has repeatedly found examples of how America's good intentions have gone awry.

The report released Wednesday focused on what the SIGAR called the Corps of Engineers "mismanagement" of $60 million in a project called the North East Power System (NEPS III), which was intended to bring power to underserved areas of Afghanistan, and consolidate the national grid.

Among the details of the report, investigators found that as of November 2017, the Afghan government had not acquired any of the privately held land, and private owners hold 68 percent of the land required for the construction. Although the corps had agreed not to go forward with the project without the right of way and clearances, it has allowed a local Afghan company to begin to build the entire system on land where residents still reside in houses and are farming land directly under completed transmission towers and power lines.

Now 182 stations have been built but will not be put into use, nor can they be tested.

The Corps also told SIGAR inspectors that they had "ethical concerns" with handing over system control to the Afghan government because it presents life and safety hazards, fearing that the Afghan government would simply "flip the switch" without first ensuring that residents had vacated the land.

Therefore, the corps spent an additional $98,000 to prevent the government from activating the system. The military then turned over "the disabled, non-energized project" to the Afghan government in February.

The inspector also determined that the local contractor built some of the towers on unstable embankments, likely to erode, and caused the towers to topple, and that the concrete foundations on some of the towers "exhibited faulty workmanship and have started to crumble" already.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vision is to deliver engineering solutions to our Nation's toughest challenges. We have applied that work ethic to our construction efforts in Afghanistan," Corps spokeswoman Joan Kibler said in an email to Newsweek.

She called the Corps' power projects in Afghanistan "one of this nation's toughest challenges," because of obstacles inherent in what she called "a contingency environment." She also denied that the new system was inoperable in the long term.

"We have seen the Government of Afghanistan gain experience and expertise on power projects and are confident that they can operate these systems safely," Kibler said. "In addition, we have reviewed the structural concerns raised in the report and have determined they do not pose a risk to long term operation of the systems."