US wasted $39 million on forest camouflage uniforms for Afghan army, report says

The Pentagon recently paid for a new proprietary camouflage that was inappropriate for the environment based on a single Afghan official’s tastes, a government watchdog said.
The Pentagon recently paid for a new proprietary camouflage that was inappropriate for the environment based on a single Afghan official’s tastes, a government watchdog said.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The United States spent up to US$28 million (S$39 million) more than it had to on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army because of the sartorial tastes of a single Afghan official, a US government watchdog said Wednesday (June 21).

A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that the Pentagon needlessly spent millions to licence a proprietary camouflage pattern that replicates lush forests.

Most of Afghanistan's landscape, however, is desert, and the Defence Department owns dozens of similar patterns it could have used for free, the report said.

"They picked the pattern based on a fashion preference, not by experts, but by the minister of defence," said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. "That was a dumb decision."

By 2007, six years after the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, the ragtag soldiers of the Afghan army wore a hodgepodge of uniforms. The US and its allies have spent millions on overhauling and training Afghanistan's security forces. Purchasing matching uniforms was one expense.

Abdul Rahim Wardak, then the minister of defence, discovered the camouflage pattern the Pentagon eventually purchased while browsing uniform styles online, according to unnamed Defence Department officials cited in the report.

The forest pattern he settled on was created and owned by HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp., a Canadian company that has designed camouflage for the militaries of Jordan, Chile and the United Arab Emirates.

The new uniforms also included expensive details like replacing buttons with zippers.

"It's the totally wrong pattern for a country like Afghanistan. We are in Afghanistan; 98 per cent of it is desert," Sopko said.

"So you would assume you want something that blended with the desert."

The inspector general's report found that the Pentagon could have chosen from a number of similar patterns that it owned and were not in use by US forces.

Afghan special forces and several national police units wear uniforms with a pattern owned by the Defence Department, according to the report.

Altering the army's uniforms could save the United States betweenUS$68.6 million and US$72.2 million during the next 10 years, the report said.

Sopko said the uniforms were one of many needless costs borne by US taxpayers in Afghanistan.

"This is not a one-off. This is not unique," Sopko said. "We have too many contracts like this in Afghanistan, where people make stupid decisions, and people are not held accountable and the taxpayer pays."

The Pentagon did not rebut the findings of the report and said it would conduct a review to find a "more effective alternative" to the current uniforms.