Reaction to Sopko’s findings was swift and sharp.
“You’d think the Pentagon would have had a good handle on how to pick the right camouflage for uniforms,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and senior member of the Budget and Finance committees, said in a statement. “Instead, the Defense Department gave up control of the purchase and spent an extra $28 million on the wrong pattern just because someone in Afghanistan liked it. It’s embarrassing and an affront to U.S. taxpayers. Those who wasted money on the wrong camouflage uniforms seem to have lost sight of their common sense.”
The decision to buy the woodland-pattern uniform dates to 2007. For the previous five years, Afghan soldiers had been issued a “hodgepodge” of uniforms donated from several nations, according to the report. Early in 2007, the Afghan Defense Ministry decided it needed a “new and distinctive uniform” to set the Afghan army apart.
In February 2007, U.S. officials training the Afghan army cruised the internet for camouflage patterns. In an email, the officials “ran across” camouflage from a company called HyperStealth and showed them to Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. He “liked what he saw,” the report says.
By May, Wardak had selected the “Forest” pattern, and U.S. officials made the decision to buy 1,364,602 uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants “without conducting any formal testing to determine the pattern’s effectiveness for use in Afghanistan,” according to the report.
The report, however, raises questions about the utility of forest camouflage in a country that “on the whole is dry, falling within the Desert or Desert Steppe climate classification,” according to the National Climatic Data Center.
The Pentagon also could have recommended camouflage patterns the military owns but no longer uses. Those uniforms “may have been equally effective in the Afghan environment” and with fewer alterations, like zippers, could have saved as much as $28 million.
“We had camouflage patterns,” Sopko said. “Dozens of them. For free!”
The inspector general’s report concludes that neither the Pentagon nor the Afghan government knows if the uniform still being issued there is “appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy.”
Those soldiers may be the ultimate losers in the uniform debacle, Sopko said.
“I feel sorry for the poor Afghan soldiers,” Sopko said. “I mean they’re walking around with a target on their backs, ‘Shoot me.’ Because only 2% of the country is forest woodland, and that’s the outfit that the Afghan minister picked.”