An Army investigation into an unfinished Marine command center at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan raises further questions about whether the Army knowingly wasted taxpayer money on the $34 million project, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Special Inspector General John F. Sopko raised concerns about the project in July, after he visited Camp Leatherneck and found the well-built headquarters sitting empty with no prospect of being used before the December 2014 troop drawdown.
"It appears to be the best-constructed building I have seen in my travels to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, it is unused, unoccupied, and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose," Sopko wrote in his July letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III; and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
Five months later, an Army investigation has concluded the empty headquarters should be finished and occupied, despite evidence that commanders at Camp Leatherneck don't want it. The investigation, conducted by Maj. Gen. James M. Richardson, contradicts a May report by the Army that determined the building wasn't needed, Sopko said.
Because the Army's report was inadequate, Sopko is reopening SIGAR's investigation into the decision to proceed with construction after it was evident the building wasn't needed, he said in a Nov. 27 follow-up letter released Wednesday.
A copy of the most recent report, provided to SIGAR, "lacks transparency, contains a number of unsupported statements, and fails to adequately explain its key findings and recommendations. Frankly, this does not instill confidence that a thorough and candid review was conducted of this matter," Sopko wrote.
The command center was part of several new command buildings meant to accommodate the troop surge President Obama announced in 2009, along with three other regional command centers. But in May 2010, the Marine commander at Camp Leatherneck decided the building was unnecessary, and asked USFOR-A to cancel construction, according to the Army report. USFOR-A agreed, and sent the cancellation request to Army Central Command.
ARCENT disagreed, deciding that because the command center fit in with Central Command's "strategic vision for the enduring presence in Afghanistan" and was already funded, it made more sense to build it and cancel a smaller command center in the same region. After convincing the other commanders to agree, ARCENT made the decision to go ahead with construction.
The original completion date was January 2012, but changes to the contract delayed occupation so long that there aren't enough troops left at Camp Leatherneck to fill it. Even the Marines for whom the building was built don't want it. The commander for the southwest region wrote to USFOR-A in April saying that he doesn't plan to use it at all.
"The answer is I have no interest in moving in. Many reasons, we are too small ... we are rolling into the fighting season and [it] is not ready. We have recently stopped any future installs to the C2 infrastructure to the 64k [in order to] end the money drain," he wrote, according to the Army report.
Meanwhile, the Army hasn't answered Sopko's July questions about the command center.
"Gen. Richardson's report fails to address the underlying conditions that resulted in the construction of this $36 million building that apparently no one wanted or needed," he wrote. "Without identifying and correcting these deficiencies it is almost certain that similar wastes of taxpayer dollars will occur."
Sopko requested a formal response to his July letter, along with documents related to the planning and construction of the command center and the May and November Army reports.