By Larry Shaughnessy
Contract fraud and waste has been an ongoing problem in Afghanistan almost since the start of the war, but a new report finds one kind of contract screw-up could well have caused deaths and injuries among U.S. troops.
The problem revolves around “culvert denial systems.” Essentially they are grates made of heavy steel rods that keep the Taliban from putting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in culverts under roads traveled by U.S. military vehicles.
A report released on Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that “at least two Afghan contractors in one Afghanistan province have committed fraud by billing the U.S. government for the installation of 250 culvert denial systems that were either never installed or incorrectly installed.”
In November 2008, CNN personnel, while on patrol with an American convoy, saw how American troops dealt with the problem on roads with no culvert denial systems.
The convoy was traveling to a small village only accessible by dirt roads. Every time it approached a culvert, all the vehicles stopped.
A young lieutenant and a sergeant got out of the lead vehicles and walked about 50 yards up the ditch. When they reached the culvert, they’d get on their knees and they’d look for anything suspicious in the culvert.
Nearly 50 American troops waited in stopped vehicles out in the open.
No IEDs were found that day in the culverts, but the lieutenant told CNN that the Taliban had already learned to place them down the road, so they could blow up the vehicles while culverts were being checked.
The solution to that problem was supposed to be culvert denial systems. The convoys could keep moving, assured that no IEDs were in the culverts. But the reality is the roads are still very dangerous and IED attacks have risen to 17,000 last year, an all-time high.
Because several different agencies awarded contracts for culvert denial systems and each used different criteria and even different names for the systems, the SIGAR was “unable to determine the total number of contracts awarded for” culvert denial systems, nor was it able to determine how much the U.S. spent on the systems.
The bottom line of the SIGAR report is that there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
“There is insufficient evidence to show that culvert denial systems paid for with U.S. government funds were ever installed,” the report said.
More importantly, it’s unclear how many U.S. troops, if any, were killed by IEDs that should have been prevented by the systems, but the SIGAR office is still working to assess that.
“The ongoing investigation is looking into whether this apparent failure to perform may have been a factor in the death or injury of several U.S. soldiers,” the report said.