US needs millions more to complete ‘Pentagon’

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The Afghan “Pentagon” being built here is a sprawling symbol of the US generosity. The American government has already spent about $107 million double the initial estimate on the five-story defense ministry headquarters which will include state-of-the-art bunkers and the second-largest auditorium in Kabul.

But now, four years after the groundbreaking, construction crews have had to effectively halt their work as the US government has run out of money for the project.

For years, audits and inspector-general reports have documented waste and mismanagement in American aid projects in Afghanistan. But the defense ministry building is a dramatic example of how poor oversight continues to plague the massive US investment here.

“Nobody was watching it like they should, and it’s just been an open checkbook,” said one American official involved in the management of the project, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “We failed, big time.” The 5,16,000 square foot building is part of a multi-year $ 9.3 billion building spree aimed at providing hundreds of bases, outposts and hospitals for the Afghan military. Nearly all of it is financed by the US government.

But even though most US troops are scheduled to withdraw from the country next year. As many as 291 projects remain in the planning stages or under construction while another 835 are complete.

The American-led military coalition is now appealing to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to authorise an additional $24 million for the defense headquarters, already one of the costliest US-financed buildings in Afghanistan.

While waiting for the extra funding, officials have dispatched a skeleton crew to install windows to protect the building from the harsh Kabul winter.

“We have gotten ourselves into a position that we need to get out of, and we definitely need to fix it,” said Brig Gen Michael E Wehr, the deputy chief of staff engineers for the US-led coalition. “It’s an important building. It’s a ministry of defense headquarters. It’s in Kabul. We’ve got to get this done right.”