Pentagon Sent Afghan Jewelers on Lavish ‘Months-Long Gem Training Programs’

Pentagon task force in Afghanistan spent taxpayer funds on frivolous travel


BY: Adam Kredo Follow @Kredo0
December 16, 2014 5:00 am

A Pentagon task force in Afghanistan is under investigation for wasting taxpayer dollars to send Afghan jewelers on lavish “gem training” trips to India, Paris, and Milan, according to findings by a government watchdog.
The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) in Afghanistan is being accused of “imprudent spending, profligate travel by employees and contractors, and possible mismanagement” of its programs, according to a letter sent this month by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
The TFBSO was provided $700 million in taxpayer funds to pursue, among other things, the development of Afghanistan’s gem industry.
These funds were not managed properly and were spent on lavish trips abroad that did not actually foster economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan, according to an ongoing investigation by SIGAR.
Afghan jewelers were sent on “months-long gem training programs in India,” while other were sent to jewelry shows in “locations including Paris and Milan,” according to SIGAR. “Despite these expenditures, it is not clear to me that the gem industry program produced any positive and lasting economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan.”
SIGAR is now requesting a range of documents and information to determine just how much money was wasted on these trips.
These include the name of Defense Department officials who oversaw the spending and were tasked with approving the TFBSO’s program, as well as any written policies that were put in place to govern the task force’s spending.
SIGAR also seeks to determine the identities of those officials with the greatest travel expenses.
SIGAR has requested access to “documents, authorizations, and vouchers” from November 2012 through November 2014 for the 15 TFBSO employees who travelled the greatest number of times.
The watchdog group also wants to see any evaluations of programs “that sent Afghan jewelry manufacturers and gem designers to classes in India, or to jewelry shows in Europe or Asia,” according to the request.
SIGAR also detected mismanagement in other areas of the TFBSO’s work.
There area “allegations of mismanagement concerning seismic testing related to hydrocarbon exploration in Western Afghanistan,” according to the letter.
These issues will be fully addressed by SIGAR in an upcoming audit.
The TFBSO also is responsible for handling “safety concerns” related to an aging Afghan gas pipeline.
Despite U.S.-funded repairs over the past years, the pipeline is still at risk of a “catastrophic failure,” according to SIGAR, who has warned that the United States will be blamed for any resulting catastrophe if the pipeline were to break.