Afghan Army Uniform’s Detectable Pattern Might be Costing More Soldiers’ Lives, Not Just Money: Pentagon Study

The Pentagon has found out that the Afghan army’s uniform is the most expensive, and among the most detectable patterns of camouflage uniforms available, according to a new report by the U.S. military.

The study’s findings were revealed Wednesday at a House Oversight committee hearing on reconstruction in Afghanistan.
John Sopko, the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in testimony Wednesday, said he assumed that the poor choice of uniforms is due to bribery. In the end, Afghan soldiers pay the highest price, he said.

“I’d hate to be an Afghan soldier wearing that uniform,” Sopko said. “It’s like having ‘shoot me’ written on the back.”

The study supports the finding in 2017 of the SIGAR that determined the Pentagon had wasted as much as $28 million buying uniforms with woodland camouflage pattern appropriate for about 2% of mostly arid Afghanistan.

The Afghan defense minister, with U.S. military consent, chose the proprietary camouflage pattern that required paying licensing fees despite having more effective patterns owned by the Pentagon. The pattern had not been tested for its suitability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan uniform “is the most expensive of seven patterns tested and, along with BDU Woodland Forest, is the most detectable,” according to the findings of the new report, obtained by USA TODAY and submitted to Congress on Wednesday. The pattern known as Spec4ce Forest, is the only one of the seven that requires the Pentagon to pay licensing fees.

The wasteful spending outraged then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He warned the Pentagon bureaucracy in a memo that such “cavalier or casually acquiescent decisions to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner are not to recur.”

The inspector general determined that the Pentagon could save as much as $71 million over the next 10 years by switching to a new camouflage scheme. As of 2017, the Pentagon had spent $93 million to buy 1.3 million uniforms in the forest camouflage pattern for the Afghan army. Since the war began, there have been 2,400 U.S. troops killed in action.

The new study noted that Congress has required the Pentagon to determine if there is a more effective alternative uniform. The Pentagon commissioned a study by a West Point professor of cognitive science to examine the uniform best suited to Afghanistan.

The study concluded that the choice of Spec4ce Forest could hardly have been worse, when cheaper, more effective alternatives were available.
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“Uniforms that used the three patterns determined to be the least detectable would be the least expensive to procure,” according to the report.

Those investments have failed to stabilize the country, which continues to struggle with Taliban insurgents, corruption and poverty. A recent report by John Sopko, the inspector general, noted that negotiations that result in peace present challenges if the Taliban fail to reintegrate into Afghan society.

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