NATO currently operates 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan. One of these PRTs is the Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team. This particular PRT is led by American military personnel. The projects it manages in Kapisa Province are subject to periodic audits by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). This report focuses on one school which was being built by the PRT in Nijrab District. NATO refers to it as the “Farukh Shah School.” A series of SIGAR inspections conducted in September and October of 2009, revealed that the PRT had “closed-out” the Farukh Shah School and apparently listed it as being completed. In fact, the school had been constructed so poorly that it was unfit for occupancy. While no American school children would ever have been permitted to use such a facility, the PRT officials apparently considered it adequate for Afghan children.
The Farukh Shah School project was begun in early 2007, and was supposed to have been completed in 2007. It was two years behind schedule. SIGAR’s September/October 2009, inspections discovered that every building in the school complex had serious structural defects. This included the classrooms, latrine, guardhouse and generator building. In addition, the well on the site was defectively installed and needed to be redrilled. Finally, there is a missing retaining wall and the whole site was incorrectly graded, which will increase erosion. This may eventually undercut the foundation of the entire school, which is built on a hillside. The project is nothing short of an embarrassment.
SIGAR discovered that the Farukh Shah School project was closed-out in August 2009. SIGAR vaguely reported that the reason was that the Pentagon’s 2009 fiscal year was ending. The explanation does not make any sense. In addition, such a close out violates Pentagon regulations. U.S. Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation, Vol. 12, Chap. 27, Section 270204(F) states that projects are only closed-out “on completion.” The implication here is that there was pressure to show progress in Kapisa in 2009, even if there was none, so the school was simply labeled as completed.
SIGAR has refused to name those responsible, but the Kabul Press will. Responsibility rests with the former and current PRT leaders, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John “Snake” Pechiney and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. W. Mark Heiser, with their boss, Task Force Warrior Commander Colonel Scott A. Spellmon and with his boss, Combined Joint Task Force - 82 Commander Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti.
This episode raises the troubling question of how many other Afghanistan reconstruction projects have been falsely labeled as completed or a success, when such is not the case?
The Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team, while poorly staffed to perform reconstruction, is well-staffed for publicity. It has two public relations specialists, U.S. Air Force Captain Darrick B. Lee and Senior Airman Jason Troup. Assisting them are civic affairs specialists Captain Jordan Berry and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Joshua Franke, along with civil engineer/photographer, 1st Lieutenant Anthony Raffaele. Their collective job is to churn out positive stories (i.e., propaganda).
Captain Lee authored a September 14, 2009, press release on the initial SIGAR inspection. It was a positive article laced with references to progress and partnership. There was no mention of a single problem that the SIGAR inspectors discovered. It is one thing to put a positive spin on facts, but it is another to generate a grossly misleading story. It is unlikely that the U.S. Congress intended that taxpayer funds, appropriated for use in publicizing actual military accomplishments, would be used for covering up military misconduct. The Kapisa and Parwan PRT needs more engineers and project managers, and fewer public affairs people writing phony press releases and taking slanted publicity photos.
Final Note: NATO refers to the project as the “Farukh Shah School.” This does not seem to be correct. Farukh Shah’s official title was Farrukh Shah Kabuli, King of Kabul and Ghazni. He was killed by Mongol invaders in the Eleventh Century. His most important accomplishment was to be the Great, Great-Grandfather of Baba Fareed (1173-1266), who was the inspirational Sufi poet in the Punjab. Besides being the moving force behind what we now know as the Punjabi language, Baba Fareed is unique as he is revered by Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs for the simple, humble and holy life that he led.
One of his favorite sayings was: “There are not pearls in every sea, there is not gold in every mine.” He understood that not everyone is willing to follow the path to God. Baba Fareed would likely have forgiven the PRT officials for their shabby construction and lack of interest in the Nijrab school children. In keeping with his spirit, this author can only add that the school should have been built with more care.