The two-story, windowless, 64,000 square feet of offices and operations center that compose the U.S. Military’s headquarters in Afghanistan cost $34 million to complete. A building to repair the military’s vehicles and other equipment cost $45 million. And the State Department spent $80 million and signed a 10-year lease on a site for a consulate, according to a Washington Post report.
But these sites are expected to see little to no use as they have either been deemed in a dangerous location or relatively useless as the U.S. military expects to pull out combat troops by 2014.
Some are calling into question the extravagance of the headquarters located at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand province, which the Post reported the military said three years ago it didn’t need and now has no plans to occupy:
But some senior officers see the giant headquarters as the whitest elephant in a war littered with wasteful, dysfunctional and unnecessary projects funded by American taxpayers. A hulking presence at the center of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, it has become the butt of jokes among Marines stationed there and an object lesson for senior officers in Kabul and Washington.
The top Marine commander in Helmand sent a memo to the U.S. headquarters in Kabul three years ago stating that the new structure was unnecessary. But his assessment was ignored or disregarded by officers issuing contracts for construction projects, according to senior military officials familiar with the issue.
The building’s amenities also have prompted alarm among senior officers. A two-star Marine general who has toured the facility called it “better appointed than any Marine headquarters anywhere in the world.” A two-star Army general said the operations center is as large as those at the U.S. Central Command or the supreme allied headquarters in Europe.
“What the hell were they thinking?” the Army general said. “There was never any justification to build something this fancy.”
The Post also pointed out Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko writing in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that although it was “the best constructed building I have seen in my travels to Afghanistan,” it is “unused, unoccupied, and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose.”
“This is an example of what is wrong with military construction in general — once a project is started, it is very difficult to stop,” the letter continued.
While plans for construction of the building continued to go forward despite many signs showing it was no longer necessary, it wasn’t until spring that the project was stopped before computer equipment could be ordered, according to the Post.
The military is now investigating how the multi-million dollar contract continued until this point for a building that will either be demolished or given to the Afghan army.
As for the State Department’s consulate site, the Post reported officials eventually deciding the location could be easily attacked and was thus unsafe. The military’s facility for repairing vehicles and other equipment is actually being used, but as a place to hold equipment before it is shipped out of the country.
The White House recently said the decision on how many U.S. troops to leave in Afghanistan won’t be imminent. But it’s leaving open the possibility the U.S. won’t leave forces there after combat troops depart in 2014.
White House press secretary Jay Carney says the so-called “zero option” — leaving no troops behind — is still on the table. He says the U.S. will have clear objectives for its mission in Afghanistan after the long-planned drawdown. He says those objectives could be met with a residual force or through other means.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.