When you think of Afghanistan, do you imagine a forest with trees? While those of us at Liberty Nation are not the gambling type, we are willing to bet that your answer was no. Would it surprise you then that the Pentagon wasted $28 million on purchasing expensive “forest” patterned camouflage uniforms for the Afghan Army? If you have followed our coverage of how the Pentagon handles money, from overcharging the military for fuel to being swindled out of millions of dollars in the “Fat Leonard” scandal, it should not. Fraud, waste, and abuse are rampant when it comes to the Department of Defense’s pocketbook.
Originally, the Afghan National Army (ANA) utilized a “hodgepodge” of donated uniforms. By 2007, the Afghan government had standardized the ANA uniform, which was nearly identical to the U.S. Army Woodland Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). This, however, posed a problem. BDUs were freely available (ever been to an Army/Navy store?), and enemy forces were able to infiltrate ANA positions with ease.
The Afghan Minister of Defense (MOD) requested a new, distinct ANA uniform in early 2007, to help alleviate the issue. According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Afghan MOD chose the HyperStealth Spec4ce Forest pattern, made by HyperStealth Biotechnology Corporation.
This pattern, which can be seen in HyperStealth’s announcement of the ANA selecting their pattern, is nearly a polar opposite to the environment that covers over 97% of Afghanistan. HyperStealth acknowledges the oddity of a forest pattern in Afghanistan but states that a “great deal of research which went into the selection process.” The Special Inspector report, however, begs to differ:
The [Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan], however, made the decision to procure 1,364,602 ANA uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of ANA pants –totaling approximately $94 million –using HyperStealth’s Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern without conducting any formal testing or evaluation to determine the pattern’s effectiveness for use in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, it would appear that the “great deal of research” to which HyperStealth refers, amounted to little more than the Afghan MOD liking the pattern. The decision to dress Afghanistan’s troops in a camouflage pattern that would, effectively, pin a target on their backs was made by one person’s personal preference:
In email correspondence from February 2007, those responsible DOD officials stated that they “ran across [HyperStealth’s] web site and the Minister [then Minister of Defense Wardak] liked what he saw. He [the Minister] liked the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns.” CSTC-A personnel then requested that HyperStealth provide several camouflage examples with varying color schemes from which the Afghan MOD could select. By May 2007, the Afghan MOD had settled on the Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern, and CSTC-A began to move forward with the acquisition process.
It should be noted that forests cover less than 3% of Afghanistan’s total land area.
Not only is the pattern ineffective in the predominately Desert and Desert Steppe classified Afghanistan, but the pattern was a more expensive option. Because the pattern is proprietary to HyperStealth, use of the pattern requires a licensing fee which dramatically increased the price. ANA uniforms using the Spec4ce Forest pattern were, on average, 40-43% more expensive than similar uniforms used by the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP uniforms used a non-proprietary pattern and met similar uniform specifications as the ANA uniforms. The major differentiator between the ANA and the ANP uniforms was the pattern. The U.S. Military had multiple non-proprietary patterns from which to choose, any one of which would have saved the additional $28.23 million in costs to the U.S. taxpayer.
This is yet another example of the Department of Defense’s cavalier attitude toward the use of its funds. In 2015, the then Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work requested a study by the Defense Business Board to determine ways of making the Department of Defense more efficient. The Defense Business Board found $125 billion in wasteful spending and identified a path to streamlining the Pentagon to reduce the waste.
For fears of Congress further slashing defense spending, the Pentagon rejected the findings of the report, and it was buried. The system of waste is self-perpetuating. The Pentagon wastes money on pet projects and uninformed decisions (the ANA uniforms being a prime example) and then cries foul when it does not have the funding to meet actual goals and requirements. The military has aging aircraft in dire need of replacement, ships that need refurbishing, technological advancements that would give us an edge over our adversaries and ground troops who need adequate training and health care.
But instead of trimming the fat and spending the over $125 billion in waste on actual mission critical tasks and objectives the Pentagon purchases camouflage uniforms that don’t work and wastes millions on private villas in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon is in desperate need of a comprehensive audit. Will the Trump administration hold them accountable or continue the status quo? Given the budgetary increases in defense spending, the answer may be disappointing. But for the sake of the American taxpayer, let’s hope not.