Afghanistan Prison Already Faces Structural Damages

BAGHLAN, Afghanistan — John F. Sopka, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, released a report on June 3 that highlighted major safety maintenance problems at a prison in the country’s Baghlan province. The prison was constructed two years ago using U.S. funding, and it is already falling apart and overcrowded, according to the report.

The report states that most of the damages are caused by foundation settling, a failure to use reinforced concrete and a “poor or nonexistent maintenance by Afghan government.” The soil settlement caused serious structural damage including wide cracks to buildings 17, 18 and 19 at the prison stated Sopko in an April letter to John Kerry, secretary of state, and James Cunningham, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. One structure has been demolished and two have collapsing walls and cracked structural beams, the report said. The prison is also overcrowded, housing 777 inmates in a facility designed for 495.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement awarded the $11.3 million prison contract to an Afghan company named Omran Holding Group. It is still being disputed as to whether or not the State Department or the contractor is at fault.

The report blames some of the issues on a “lack of oversight” of the $11.3 million contract by the department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. Bureau personnel did not require the prison walls to be built with steel-reinforced masonry walls between concrete columns, which Sopko stated was a “significant design and construction error” in the report.

Sopko wrote that, “to its credit,” the State Department bureau is working with the Afghan government to resolve deficiencies and to develop a “nationwide operations and maintenance system for its prisons.” The report goes as far as saying that “many of the construction deficiencies may be the result of fraudulent actions by the project’s original contracting officer’s representative” who worked at the U.S. embassy and “possibly” Omran Holding Group personnel. Sopko also sated that his office has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether company and State Department officials “may have been complicit.”

This example is one of many the Afghan government will face in establishing the rule of law and security, as the U.S. plans to withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of 2016, according to Bloomberg. President Barack Obama recently announced that there are 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan currently, which will be reduced to 9,800 next year.