The Defense Department blew an extra $28 million dressing Afghanistan’s army in woodland camouflage — even though a small share of the country’s terrain matches the uniform, a government watchdog group has found.
The Afghan Defense Ministry opted for a “forest” camo pattern owned by a private company, despite having better design options already owned by the Pentagon and more suited for the country’s terrain, a report released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found.
As a result the Pentagon shelled out nearly $94 million for some 1.3 million uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants because they were the preferred look of leaders at the time.
“My concern is what if the minister of defense liked purple, or liked pink?” Inspector General John Sopko told USA Today. Are we going to buy pink uniforms for soldiers and not ask questions? That’s insane. This is just simply stupid on its face. We wasted $28 million of taxpayers’ money in the name of fashion, because the defense minister thought that that pattern was pretty. So if he thought pink or chartreuse was it, would we have done that?”
Sopko’s damning, 17-page report is the latest from his office, which monitors how the military has used the $66 billion that Congress has allotted throughout the longest war in U.S. history.
Its release comes as the Pentagon signaled it would send 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to aid the nation’s struggling army.
Afghan troops are currently fighting a multi-front war against an ISIS off-shoot as well as the Taliban, which has resurged in the nation since U.S. combat technically ended there in 2014.
Those Afghan soldiers have sported woodland uniforms for the last decade, despite the fact that “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area,” the inspector’s office found.
In the five years before the big uniform buy, the Afghan military relied on a mix of fatigues donated by various countries.
They were picked out in 2007 after Afghan officials determined troops needed a “new and distinctive uniform.”
U.S. military consultants that February found a design by a private company and showed it to then-Defense Minister Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who “liked what he saw,” the report says.
He approved them that May “without conducting any formal testing to determine the pattern’s effectiveness for use in Afghanistan,” the inspector’s office says.
The Pentagon would have saved $28 million if Afghan officials had picked a U.S. military-owned pattern and gone for fewer frills, the report determines.
Special tailorings — including zippers instead of buttons — also inflated the uniform price tag.
Findings in the report sparked Congressional outrage.
“You’d think the Pentagon would have had a good handle on how to pick the right camouflage for uniforms,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said in a statement to USA Today. “Instead, the Defense Department gave up control of the purchase and spent an extra $28 million on the wrong pattern just because someone in Afghanistan liked it. It’s embarrassing and an affront to U.S. taxpayers. Those who wasted money on the wrong camouflage uniforms seem to have lost sight of their common sense.”
The 17-page dressing down also raised the prospect that Afghan troops’ safety was put at risk because of the unique “forest” design.
“I feel sorry for the poor Afghan soldiers,” Sopko told USA Today. “I mean they’re walking around with a target on their backs, ‘Shoot me.’ Because only 2% of the country is forest woodland, and that’s the outfit that the Afghan minister picked.”
The Defense Department, in a letter to Sopko that was attached to the report, agrees with the results. It says the department should do a “cost benefit analysis” to see if “there is a more effective alternative, considering both operational environment and cost.”
Sopko’s reported determined that if the Afghan military went with a camouflage design owned by the U.S. military when it next orders uniforms, the move could save American taxpayers as much as $71 million over the next 10 years.