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Pentagon Spends $150 Million on Private Villas, Flat Screen TVs in Afghanistan

Pentagon task force demanded private security, queen-sized beds, DVD players, mini-fridges

An Afghan boy run at sunrise in Kabul, Afghanistan / AP
• December 3, 2015 12:01 am

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A Pentagon task force spent nearly $150 million for just a handful of employees to stay in lavish Afghan "villas" where they demanded three-star dining services, queen-sized beds, flat screen televisions, DVD players, and miniature refrigerators, among other luxuries, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Members of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations are accused by the oversight organization of spending millions in taxpayer dollars when they could have used U.S. government facilities for a fraction of the price.

Pentagon contractors who witnessed the activity disclosed it to the inspector general, which launched an investigation to determine why the task force was permitted to spend about 20 percent of its budget on these living conditions, as well as around-the-clock private security.

Afghanistan Inspector General John Sopko has petitioned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to explain the task force’s "decision to spend nearly $150 million, amounting to nearly 20 percent of its budget, on private housing and private security guards for its U.S. government employees in Afghanistan, rather than live on U.S military bases," according to a copy of the audit provided to the Washington Free Beacon.

American taxpayers could have saved "tens of millions of dollars" if personnel had opted to stay at Pentagon-owned facilities in Afghanistan rather than private villas.

"While it is not possible to determine precisely what the cost would be if TFBSO employees had lived at the U.S. Embassy, SIGAR estimates that for 2014 a TFBSO staff of 10 would have paid approximately $1.8 million to live at the embassy," Sopko wrote in his letter to Carter.

No more than "a handful" or "five to ten" Pentagon employees stayed at the private villas, despite the hefty price tag, according to former task force employees who spoke to the inspector general.

The decision to pay for the private villas is believed to have been made by Paul Brinkley, a former undersecretary of defense and director of the task force. Brinkley "has not cooperated" with the inspector general’s "requests for information," according to the report.

One U.S. contractor who spoke to the inspector general about the expenses claimed that task force personnel were provided "with queen size beds in certain rooms, a flat screen TV in each room that was 27 inches or larger, a DVD player in each room, a mini refrigerator in each room," according to the report.

In some instances, and "investor villa" was requested. These upgraded lodgings included "upgraded furniture" and "Western-style hotel accommodations," the report claims.

"In terms of food, the contractor was required to provide service that was ‘at least 3 stars,’ with each meal containing at least two entrée choices and three side order choices, as well as three-course meals for ‘Special Events,’" the report discovered.

A preliminary review conducted by Sopko’s office "indicates that [task force] 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."

Brinkley, the task force’s former director, claimed in a 2014 book that he and his Pentagon employees "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."

The report goes on to note, "although [the inspector general] has contacted Mr. Brinkley in connection with this inquiry, he is no longer a U.S. government employee and has not cooperated with our requests for information."

Between 2009 and 2014, the task force paid contractors $148 million for various accommodations.

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It remains "unclear" if these expenditures benefitted the United States in any way, according to the report.

"We have received the recent letter from SIGAR and will respond," said Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Department of Defense spokesman.

The Pentagon task force in question has been accused of corruption and mismanagement in the past.

The Afghanistan inspector general found in past reports that the organization failed to "devise long-term planning strategies" for a $282 million investment in Afghanistan’s energy industries.

Additionally, the task force spent nearly $43 million to construct a compressed natural gas automobile filling station when similar structures have been built for around $500,000.

Published under: Afghanistan