Lawmakers on Wednesday joined the inspector general overseeing reconstruction in Afghanistan in blasting a Defense Department effort that spent hundreds of millions to support the Afghan economy but led to few, if any, successes. The Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness held a hearing to investigate the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko said “was a good idea on paper” that turned out to be much less so to the US taxpayer. SIGAR in multiple investigations found the group spent $150 million on villas and private security for five to 10 staffers in Afghanistan, spent $55 million to help facilitate an oil contract that was eventually awarded to a Chinese company, and spent $43 million on a gas station that “is a give away that benefits 150 taxi drivers,” Sopko said. Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) questioned if any efforts of the task force benefited US taxpayers, or if the money could be effectively tracked. Several lawmakers called on SIGAR to have subpoena authority to better investigate projects such as the ones named by the inspector general.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.