Police in Uruzgan’s capital city Tarin Kowt clearly needed better facilities if they were to play a major role in an Afghan-led security effort after NATO forces depart in 2014. The Combined Security Transition Command (of Afghanistan) and the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs decided the police headquarters in Tarin Kowt was a high-priority project. They tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with its construction. The project, which included four major buildings and several outbuildings, was 70 percent done when the Afghan contractors from Kabul and Kandahar stopped paying their subcontractors and fled the area, taking the rest of the money with them. The previous Dutch commanders viewed the headquarters as a U.S. project and let it sit unfinished. They also chose not to deal with the local police chief, who, although corrupt, was able to secure the safety of the population by resolving conflicts and expanding police presence throughout the province in a professional manner. The lack of ownership, change-over in coalition leaders, and distrust of local officials created a situation where there was no one who felt responsible for the half-completed project. In fact, when I returned to base after my initial patrol and made inquires as to the status of the project, it took several weeks just to find documentation on the project and determine exactly how it had come to fail. ... After two years of inactivity, the contractors were ready to finish the job, but again the Corps of Engineers stepped in and stopped the effort. In Afghanistan, the Corps is required to adhere to certain specifications on construction projects, so parts of the plan had to be redesigned. This continued for several months, with the project commencing in fits and starts. Then there were the multiple regulations clearly designed for the United States but blindly transferred to such projects in Afghanistan. When hand rails and wheelchair ramps did not meet U.S. codes, the contractors had to stop their work. Accessibility is important, but we lost another two months reworking the plans. Afghan contractors were not prepared to meet the requirements of U.S. plumbing and electric codes either. Insisting on adherence to Western plumbing standards hardly made sense, since most Afghans did not use Western facilities and often ruined the plumbing soon after installation. Finally, there were the myriad rules and regulations that required Afghan companies to fill out mountains of paperwork, which they simply were not prepared for. After 11 frustrating months and the intervention of a high-ranking officer, the project had barely restarted and was still several months from completion when I departed in June 2011.
Compare the police headquarters with the beautiful school next door, where girls were already getting an education. Without many of the road-blocks that the U.S. task force experienced, the Australian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team was able to build their school in under a year. The Australians tracked the progress with regular check-ins and aggressive quality assurance while coordinating their activity with AusAID (the equivalent to USAID). Unlike the Americans, the Australians would have been able to detect absconding contractors quickly. Moreover, unlike the U.S. practice of paying contractors up front, they dispensed funds in phases throughout construction. Finally, they did not face the raft of construction regulations built for their home country; they constructed their projects in accordance with Afghan standards.