When you’re buying uniforms for the army of a country that’s largely desert, picking camouflage designed for tropical forests is a really bad misuse of taxpayer funds — no matter how much the country’s minister of defense likes the print.
That was the message from U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to senior Pentagon officials in a memo released Monday, in a rebuke for wasting up to $28 million providing the Afghan National Army with forest-print camouflage uniforms over the past decade. Only about 2 percent of Afghanistan is forested.
The blunder was identified in a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a government watchdog on Afghanistan. It said the forest pattern was chosen after Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s minister of defense at the time, discovered the pattern when browsing online in 2007. By indulging his preference, the Pentagon spent millions unnecessarily licensing the proprietary forest pattern rather than using a desert camouflage pattern already owned by the Department of Defense, which would have been more practical, and could have been used for free.
In his memo, Mattis said the episode represented a decision “to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner” and was an example of “a complacent mode of thinking.”
“The report is an indication of a frame of mind — an attitude that can affect any of us at the Pentagon or across the Department of Defense — showing how those of us entrusted with supporting and equipping troops on the battlefield, if we let down our guard, can lose focus on ensuring their safety and lethality against the enemy,” he wrote.
The memo was released ahead of House Armed Services Committee meeting Tuesday, where Pentagon equipment and uniform procurement in Afghanistan and Iraq will be discussed. The U.S. has allocated nearly $110 billion to Afghanistan’s reconstruction since the Taliban were driven from power.