Military regulations require that war-zone installations housing more than 100 individuals for 90 days find a way to dispose of waste besides burning it in open-air pits. (Open-air burning can have adverse health effects.) Some American facilities in Afghanistan attempted to comply with this rule by building incinerators. Four of those incinerators, though, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction asserts in a new report, were never, ever used—an unmitigated waste of $20 million.
At one base investigated by SIGAR, commanders decided after the incinerators were built that they’d be too expensive to operate. At another, Forward Operating Base Sharana, it appears the devices went unused because of incompetent construction:
The two incinerators shared a common loading area, which was too narrow to allow equipment, such as forklifts, to load the units with solid waste. As a result, solid waste would have to be manually loaded into the incinerators. Also, the ramps to access the ash ejected from the incinerators were inaccessible to the equipment needed to transport it to a nearby pit. Consequently, workers would have to load wheel barrels and manually transport the ash. This situation, combined with electrical deficiencies which posed safety hazards that were never corrected under the contract and were later estimated to cost about $1 million to repair, led FOB Sharana officials to decide not to operate the incinerators. As a result, FOB Sharana continued using open-air burn pits to dispose of its solid waste.
In the scope of the federal budget, $20 million is not a lot. In the scope of adult human beings in positions of authority spent twenty million dollars on nothing, though, it’s a substantial amount. And garbage disposal is not the only field in which American funds were wasted or outright embezzled in Afghanistan. As SIGAR puts it, one “common theme” of the inspection reports that it’s been issuing since 2009 has been that contractors hired for “the construction of schools, medical clinics, hospitals, prisons, and military facilities ... did not deliver according to the contract requirements but were still paid the full contract amount and released without further obligation.”