U.S. congressional inspectors have highlighted a second case of waste at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in as many days, saying an $11 million trash incineration system has been underutilized, leaving most refuse to be burned in open-air pits.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said Thursday its investigators recently went to Camp Leatherneck in the southern province of Helmand and found that only two of its four solid-waste incinerators were in operation.
It said the two 12-ton machines were "not being used to full capacity," while the two larger 24-ton incinerators were not in use at all because a contract for their operation and maintenance had not been awarded.
Special Inspector General John Sopko raised the issue in a letter addressed to U.S. Central Command chief General Lloyd Austin and released to the media. Sopko said the underutilization of the incinerators has resulted in the base disposing of waste in open air burn pits, risking the health of its 13,500 military and civilian residents.
He said inhaling toxic smoke from the daily burning of solid waste increases the risk of longterm health problems such as reduced lung function, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Special Inspector General also said the base's continued use of burn pits since it opened five years ago violates U.S. government guidelines and military regulations which call for such disposal methods to be temporary.
Sopko called on U.S. military leaders to stop the use of the burn pits "as quickly as possible" and approve the operation of the four incinerators at full capacity.
SIGAR informed the media of another problem at Camp Leatherneck
on Wednesday, saying the U.S. military spent $34 million to build a new complex in the base but is unlikely to ever use it. In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and U.S. military leaders, Sopko said he believes the facility is a "potentially troubling example of waste."
The U.S. military hired British firm AMEC Earth and Environment to start building the complex in 2011, and intended to use it as a command headquarters for Afghanistan's desolate south. But the Special Inspector General said military officials recently told him it will not be occupied.
The 6,000 square-meter facility consists mostly of a large windowless building with spacious offices and expensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for up to 1,500 staff. Sopko said some U.S. commanders in Helmand objected to plans for the building in 2010, saying there was no need for it.
He said he is "deeply troubled" that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a project that "should have been stopped." Defense Department spokesman George Little said Wednesday that Sopko's letter is under review.