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Watchdog: Pentagon has no proof life-saving anti-IED program was implemented

By Phillip Swarts

Wednesday - 7/24/2013, 1:16pm  ET

A Pentagon program to prevent the planting of Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, in Afghanistan spent $32 million but doesn’t know if the devices are functioning or were even installed, an investigation by the U.S. top Afghan watchdog found.

These “culvert denial systems” are supposed to safeguard U.S. troops and Afghan civilians from the explosive devises, but a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said “it is unclear whether or not culvert denial systems are functioning or, in some cases, where even installed.”

The IG already found two Afghan contractors who billed the U.S. government $1 million for the installation of 250 such devices, but then never completed the work or did it haphazardly.

Inspector General John Sopko said his office would further investigate the contractors’ work, and hold them accountable if safety devices were not installed.

“The loss of life because individuals were not doing their job is horrific and unacceptable,” he said.  “This case shows so clearly that fraud can kill in Afghanistan.”

There are at least 2,500 places where the prevention devices were supposed to be installed, the IG said, but a lack of documentation and oversight means no one’s certain if they ever actually were.

“It is important to know where culvert denial systems have been installed and what condition they are in to prevent any further loss of life from the placement of IEDs in roadside culverts,” the report said.

But a letter from NATO said that it may be difficult for military leaders to double-check whether culvert denial systems were installed.

“Due to troop draw down, it is unlikely that Coalition Forces will have the resources to inspect, or re-inspect, every CDS from prior years’ contracts, especially in contested areas,” the letter said, adding that NATO officials agreed with the IG’s concern for improved safety against IEDs.

The Pentagon also said it agrees with the IG’s suggestions, including making sure specific requirements for construction are included in all contracts and that officials verify the work is being done before sending payment.

An estimated 600 U.S. troops have been killed, and almost 5,000 wounded from IED explosions in Afghanistan since 2001, according to data from the Pentagon and the think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

IEDs are cheap and relatively inexpensive bombs to make and have become a favorite of terrorists.  The Defense Department said the number of events involving IEDs in Afghanistan has almost doubled since 2009 – reaching 17,000 incidents.

Culvert denial systems are a range of devices used to deny terrorists access to culverts – pipes and tunnels used to channel water under roadways, and a favorite hiding spot for IEDs.  The denial systems, from metal grates to more advanced devices, block entry to the pipes, but still allow water to flow.  Prices to install the systems range from $800 to $6,500, the IG said.