A letter to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan released Monday indicates that members of the U.S. Army have continued to construct buildings for the Afghan National Army (ANA) that pose a serious risk of fire, despite warnings this might be the case.
The Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko’s letter highlighted what he views as an “urgent safety matter” that requires immediate attention.
At issue is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) use of a material called K-Span in place of concrete or masonry in building new structures for the ANA’s use. The material alone would be fine, but when coupled with the use of a form of insulation that doesn’t meet international fire safety codes, Sopko saw a problem that needs to be corrected. In his letter, Sopko pointed out to Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick — head of USACE — that the actions his troops had taken didn’t seem to match the danger that our Afghan allies were being put in:
I am troubled that USACE’s risk assessment determined that “almost all of the completed facilities have insulation installed that currently can not be shown to meet the requirements of the IBC [International Building Code].” In fact, according to USACE, for two contracts consisting of forty-five (45) structures with completed systems installed, only “one is in full compliance” with IBC standards. USACE determined the most appropriate course of action to respond to this potential fire and safety risk was to place fire safety warning cards within K-Span structures, “along with a ‘fire-watch’ during rest hours.”
According to Sopko, last year three of the structures in question actually did catch fire — all while still under construction. The resulting damage was estimated to be worth over $750,000, and prompted the SIGAR’s office to open a full investigation. To make sure his concerns were heard, Sopko sent his letter not only to the Lt. Gen. Bostick, but copied both General Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of U.S. Central Command, and General Joseph F. Dunford, the U.S. commander on the ground in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has been ramping up its cooperation with and training of the Afghan National Security Forces in preparation for the end of the United States’ combat presence in 2014. As SIGAR has previously noted, however, the money being spent rebuilding the country in preparation for the handover has not always been done wisely. Just in January, SIGAR’s office raised flags on nearly $7 million of spending on vehicles that had already been destroyed.