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Uniforms are a big deal at the U.S. Department of Defense for outfitting the members of the nation’s military branches, particularly its Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs), which incorporate camouflage among other technologies to help protect the lives of American service members who will be engaged in combat operations.
As part of that mission, the Pentagon also helps outfit the service members of other nations’ militaries, particularly those that provide bases and other assistance to U.S. military forces, but which lack the resources to adequately provision their forces. The justification for providing that kind of military aid is that if the DoD didn’t step in, it would increase the risk to the lives of the American troops they are supporting.
Being a large government bureaucracy, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that the DoD periodically bungles that basic task. What is surprising is the price tag for when it does, as we just found out in the last week when $28 million worth of uniforms provided by the Pentagon to outfit Afghanistan’s army was wasted because they were produced with the wrong kind of camouflage to provide effective camouflage protection in that country. Tara Copp of the Military Times reports:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis scolded top defense officials for a “complacent” mode of thinking that allowed $28 million to be wasted on Afghan army uniforms that were inappropriate for fighting in Afghanistan.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction exposed the waste in June when it found that the Pentagon’s decision to procure a dark forest-patterned uniform for the Afghan army was incongruous with the country’s largely desert environment. The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan selected the dark uniform in 2008, SIGAR found, without determining whether it was right for Afghanistan. DoD had purchased more than 1.3 million of these uniforms as of June, SIGAR reported.
Moreso, the SIGAR found, DoD bypassed its own digital patterns it owned and contracted a firm whose proprietary rights over the forest pattern significantly increased the cost of the shirt and pants purchases.
According to the McClatchy news service, the Pentagon’s near decade-long period of wasteful spending to outfit Afghanistan’s military to assist U.S. forces operating in that country has led to a criminal investigation.
“This…procurement demonstrates what happens when people in the government don’t follow the rules,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday. “These problems are serious. They are so serious that we started a criminal investigation related to the procurement of the (Afghan National Army) uniforms.”
According to the special IG, the military bought more expensive, proprietary “woodland patterns” for the Afghan National Army uniforms instead of using the Defense Department’s own patterns for free, even though only 2.1 percent of the country’s total land area is covered with forest.
“This is about reason and common sense,” Sopko told McClatchy after the hearing. “It’s not fair to the taxpayer and it’s not fair to the poor Afghan walking around with a target on his back that says ‘shoot me.’”
Nor would it be fair to U.S. service members conducting operations with Afghan forces within that country’s rough environment, whose positions could be given away by the greater visibility of the uniforms provided by the Pentagon to their foreign colleagues.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s report is available online.
For its part, the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to bar any purchases of uniforms for Afghanistan’s army in the U.S. government’s 2018 fiscal year budget for the DoD.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena