WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is under fire for spending nearly $28 million procuring camouflage uniforms for the Afghan army, gear suited for environments so rare they account for just 2 percent of Afghanistan's countryside, according to a new watchdog report.
The Defense Department organization overseeing efforts to train and equip Afghan forces supervised selection and design of the new proprietary woodland camouflage pattern without proper testing and assessment, according to the report published Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
For years, Afghan conventional forces and elite commandos have fielded the U.S. Army’s woodland pattern utility uniforms. In 2007, the Afghan Defense Ministry embarked on a quest to design new uniforms to counter efforts by the Taliban and militants battling government forces to counterfeit the clothing.
The new uniform was designed in similar fashion to the current uniform worn by the U.S. Army, called the Army Combat Uniform, but at a much higher cost, the inspector general determined.
According to the report, the HyperStealth’s Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern was chosen by the then-Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak — because he liked what he saw while browsing a website.
"This is just simply stupid on its face. We wasted $28 million of taxpayers’ money in the name of fashion, because the defense minister thought that that pattern was pretty. So if he thought pink or chartreuse was it, would we have done that?" said John Sopko, the inspector general, in an interview with USA Today.
Picking uniform patterns for specific environments requires formal testing and evaluation, a process that can be a "an extremely fussy and demanding experimental design problem," said Dr. Timothy O’Neill, creator of the camouflage pattern which served as the basis for the Army Combat Uniform. "Desert designs don’t work well in woodland areas and woodland patterns perform poorly in the desert."
The U.S. government already had the rights to multiple camouflage pattern schemes that could have been provided to the Afghan army at no cost.
Furthermore, the "DOD was unable to provide documentation demonstrating that the Spec4ce Forest specification was essential to the U.S. government’s requirement, or documentation justifying and approving the Spec4ce Forest requirement in the ANA uniform specification," the report reads.
Propriety uniforms cost significantly more to produce because vendors seeking to supply the Afghan military with its uniform needs are required to "purchase pre-patterned material, or obtain the rights to use the proprietary pattern from HyperStealth or an authorized licensee, according to the report.
The new uniforms now cost 40 percent to 43 percent more at about $45 to $80 per set.
Sopko has recommended conducting a cost-benefit analysis and consider changing the Afghan camouflage uniforms, which could save taxpayers $70 million over the next 10 years.