Watchdog: Accountability

Million-dollar Afghan prison --- funded by U.S. tax dollars --- falling apart, watchdog says

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Watchdog,Afghanistan,Kelly Cohen,State Department,Accountability,SIGAR

A State Department-funded prison in Afghanistan that cost more than $11 million to build is falling apart, a new report has found.

The Baghlan prison in northeastern Afghanistan, completed in November 2012, is suffering from serious structural damage, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Soon after completion, the building settled, causing enough damage in one building to warrant its demolition. Walls collapsed and structural beams cracked in two others.

Cracks in the walls in a building at Baghlan prison. The building had to be demolished due to safety concerns. (Photo: State Dept. via SIGAR)
The construction deficiencies may be the result of fraudulent actions by the project's original contracting officer's representative — a former U.S. government employee — and possibly personnel of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement contractor, according to the SIGAR report.

The embassy employee, an Afghan engineer since removed from his position, is suspected of allowing the contractor, Omran Holding Group, to use poor-quality products and materials. The engineer is not named in the report.

An investigation into the embassy and the contractor are ongoing, the report said.

The prison, which is in the second-highest earthquake zone in Afghanistan, is not only still in use today, but currently holds 750 inmates despite being built to hold a maximum of 495.

In April, SIGAR told the secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan the prison should be rebuilt with reinforced masonry.

The reluctance to do so has just made the situation worse, including a heightened risk of prisoner escape, according to SIGAR.

Negotiations over who will pay for the fixes are ongoing, with "millions more dollars at stake," the report concluded.

Baghlan is about 100 miles north of Kabul.

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Kelly Cohen

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner