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IG Report: U.S. Spent $100 Million on Camouflage That May Make Afghan Army Better Targets

Afghan minister liked the way 'forest' camo looked despite fact forest is only two percent of terrain

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers march during a ceremony / Getty Images
• June 21, 2017 11:19 am

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Taxpayers spent $100 million on Afghan army uniforms that may have actually made them a better target for enemies because an Afghan minister "liked what he saw."

The Department of Defense has purchased 1.36 million uniforms at a cost of $94 million for the Afghan National Army since 2007 without assessing whether or not they were appropriate for the battlefield, according to a new Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction report.

Afghan ministers requested that the department purchase proprietary uniforms rather than existing camouflages, including patterns best suited for forest combat, despite the fact that forest only covers about 2 percent of Afghan terrain. The Afghan preference for uniforms made by HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. increased costs between 40 and 43 percent. The decision, which ended up costing American taxpayers up to $28.23 million more than comparable uniforms on the market, may have been made for aesthetic reasons.

"Responsible DOD officials stated that they ‘ran across [HyperStealth’s] web site and the Minister [then Minister of Defense Wardak] liked what he saw. He [the Minister] liked the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns,'" the report says.

U.S. officials were unable to persuade the Afghan government to reconsider the more expensive uniform purchase and went ahead with the purchase without testing whether or not the new camouflage was actually effective in Afghanistan. Testing camouflage patterns is relatively inexpensive, according to SIGAR: it would have cost less than a quarter million dollars and taken between 22 and 26 weeks, while evaluating new patterns would take as long as 14 months and cost less than half a million dollars. The Afghan government decided to move ahead.

"The decision to select the proprietary camouflage was made without testing its effectiveness for use in Afghanistan compared to other available camouflage patterns," SIGAR found. "Notwithstanding the lack of testing of the Spec4ce Forest pattern for Afghanistan, and concerns from the responsible DOD contracting office that choosing such a pattern would be hard to justify given the availability of other patterns … CSTCA officials pushed forward with the ANA uniform procurement."

When designing combat uniforms for American forces, the Department of Defense must factor in environmental conditions and test to ensure that they are effective. In Afghanistan, the military had experimented with a number of camouflages for American forces and determined that the variety of terrain and weather conditions warranted multiple uniforms. The report contrasted the Marine Corps's use of two different camouflage patterns with that of the Afghan army, which used only the "forest" pattern. As a result the new uniforms may have made Afghan soldiers "more clearly visible" to Taliban fighters.

"Neither DOD nor the Afghan government could demonstrate the appropriateness of the ANA uniform for the Afghan environment, or show that the new camouflage pattern did not hinder ANA operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy," the report said.

The extent of the wasteful spending may be unknown. SIGAR's investigation revealed that the Afghan government "could not track clothing and equipment purchased using direct assistance from 2012 to 2013." The inspector general, which was established in 2008 to oversee billions of dollars in reconstruction costs, said that it intends to conduct further investigations into "questionable" practices regarding the competitive bidding process.

The Department of Defense responded to the inspector general by saying that it would further investigate its contracting process and agreed that changes needed to be made.

"This lack of accountability is troubling," a defense department official said in a letter to the inspector general. "DoD concurs in the suggestion contained in this report that a DoD organization with expertise in military uniforms should conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the current Afghan National Army (ANA) uniform specifications."

HyperStealth did not return request for comment.