The US Department of Defense (DoD) has come in for severe criticism from a watchdog organisation for blowing $43m (£27.9) in building a gas station in Afghanistan. Adding fuel to fire, the Pentagon has not offered any explanation over the expenses spent on the facility.
A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), a congressionally mandated inspector, has found Pentagon used taxpayers' money to set up what has been dubbed as the "world's most expensive gas station". The scathing report calls the spending "gratuitous and extreme," adding that it is most likely criminal. The Sigar finding also cites a similar natural gas station built in neighbouring Pakistan for about $500,000.
John Sopko, chief of Sigar, said in the letter addressed to Defense Secretary Ash Carter: "Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that (the Defense Department) asserts that it no longer has any knowledge, an $800mn program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago."
The report says the DoD spent $42.7m between 2011 and 2014 for the construction and initial implementation of the gas station in Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan. The facility – a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station – was constructed to show that Afghan cars can switch to the use of CNG effectively.
While the station opened in 2012, the task force behind the facility abandoned its operations in March 2015. The report says Pentagon no longer possessed "the personnel expertise to address these questions" when asked about the closure.
"It's hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000% more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational," senator Claire McCaskill, an outspoken Democrat, said in a statement.
"Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that's been wasted — an unacceptable lack of transparency that I'll be thoroughly investigating."
Responding to the report, the Pentagon spokesperson said the department is cooperating with Sigar and continues to provide necessary assistance. The spokesperson added: "Further, we have offered to assist Sigar in locating and contacting any former TFBSO (Task Force for Business and Stability Operations) personnel they wish to interview."