Monuments to Wasteful Spending in Afghanistan

The US military's lavish new headquarters in Afghanistan has been completed just in time for our exit.

The US military’s lavish new headquarters in Afghanistan has been completed just in time for our exit.

WaPo (“A brand-new U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. And nobody to use it“):

The U.S. military has erected a 64,000-square-foot headquarters building on the dusty moonscape of southwestern Afghanistan that comes with all the tools to wage a modern war. A vast operations center with tiered seating. A briefing theater. Spacious offices. Fancy chairs. Powerful air conditioning.

Everything, that is, except troops.

The windowless, two-story structure, which is larger than a football field, was completed this year at a cost of $34 million. But the military has no plans to ever use it. Commanders in the area, who insisted three years ago that they did not need the building, now are in the process of withdrawing forces and see no reason to move into the new facility.

For many senior officers, the unused headquarters has come to symbolize the staggering cost of Pentagon mismanagement: As American troops pack up to return home, U.S.-funded contractors are placing the finishing touches on projects that are no longer required or pulling the plug after investing millions of dollars.

In Kandahar province, the U.S. military recently completed a $45 million facility to repair armored vehicles and other complex pieces of equipment. The space is now being used as a staging ground to sort through equipment that is being shipped out of the country.

In northern Afghanistan, the State Department last year abandoned plans to occupy a large building it had intended to use as a consulate. After spending more than $80 million and signing a 10-year lease, officials determined the facility was too vulnerable to attacks.

But some senior officers see the giant headquarters as the whitest elephant in a war littered with wasteful, dysfunctional and unnecessary projects funded by American taxpayers. A hulking presence at the center of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, it has become the butt of jokes among Marines stationed there and an object lesson for senior officers in Kabul and Washington.

The top Marine commander in Helmand sent a memo to the U.S. headquarters in Kabul three years ago stating that the new structure was unnecessary. But his assessment was ignored or disregarded by officers issuing contracts for construction projects, according to senior military officials familiar with the issue.

The building’s amenities also have prompted alarm among senior officers. A two-star Marine general who has toured the facility called it “better appointed than any Marine headquarters anywhere in the world.” A two-star Army general said the operations center is as large as those at the U.S. Central Command or the supreme allied headquarters in Europe.

“What the hell were they thinking?” the Army general said. “There was never any justification to build something this fancy.”

Both generals spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Naturally, one wouldn’t want to go on the record about something like this.

Not mentioned above: The $92 million we spent to building a separate headquarters for Afghanistan’s ministry of defense. In case the $34 million one we built for ourselves and will never use wasn’t sufficiently lavish.

Meanwhile, DoD employees all around the world are taking unpaid furloughs.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brett says:

    Sounds like the typical inertia garbage. They started the project back in 2009, and were either too slow or too unwilling to pay any contract cancellation fees required to stop it before they’d actually built the damn thing. I suppose we should at least be grateful that they managed to stop it before they put in a ton of computer equipment that we’d then have to pay to be stripped out and taken back to the US.

    In any case, I’m guessing we’ll either demolish it, or give it to the Afghans. The Taliban will probably turn it into a prison after toppling Karzai, or strip it for raw materials.

  2. Tony W says:

    Maybe we can use the building to store some of the military’s unwanted aircraft that we are also building against their wishes.

    I can’t figure out why the Tea Party is not all over this?

  3. rudderpedals says:

    @Tony W:

    I can’t figure out why the Tea Party is not all over this?

    It doesn’t help poor people so it’s not a factor.

  4. anjin-san says:

    I can’t figure out why the Tea Party is not all over this?

    The water in the endless river of cash flowing into the bank account of defense contractors is holy water…

  5. Mike says:

    What a great building to store / dry out the poppy after we turn it over. I can’t imagine why the public thinks DoD and the Gov’t as a whole wastes money. God forbid this money was spent on a school in Afghan, or, dare I say it, in the US.

  6. merl says:

    @rudderpedals: It doesn’t hurt poor people so it isn’t a factor, you mean

  7. merl says:

    @rudderpedals: It doesn’t hurt <strong>poor people so it isn’t a factor, you mean

  8. Tony W says:

    @rudderpedals: I should have used the sarcasm font – James, new feature needed for OTB 🙂

  9. Tyrell says:

    Curious news article: “8 US soldiers in Afghanistan disappear while digging up a 5,000 year old flying machine”