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Building Junk Schools in Afghanistan
Friday, 25 December 2009 14:11
by Matthew Nasuti

U.S. Military falsifies completion of Farukh Shah School. Every building in the school complex has serious structural defects.
NATO currently operates 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan.

One of these PRTs is the Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team. This particular PRT is led by American military personnel. The projects it manages in Kapisa Province are subject to periodic audits by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). This report focuses on one school which was being built by the PRT in Nijrab District. NATO refers to it as the “Farukh Shah School.” A series of SIGAR inspections conducted in September and October of 2009, revealed that the PRT had “closed-out” the Farukh Shah School and apparently listed it as being completed. In fact, the school had been constructed so poorly that it was unfit for occupancy. While no American school children would ever have been permitted to use such a facility, the PRT officials apparently considered it adequate for Afghan children.

The Farukh Shah School project was begun in early 2007, and was supposed to have been completed in 2007. It was two years behind schedule. SIGAR’s September/ October 2009, inspections discovered that every building in the school complex had serious structural defects. This included the classrooms, latrine, guardhouse and generator building. In addition, the well on the site was defectively installed and needed to be redrilled. Finally, there is a missing retaining wall and the whole site was incorrectly graded, which will increase erosion. This may eventually undercut the foundation of the entire school, which is built on a hillside. The project is nothing short of an embarrassment.

SIGAR discovered that the Farukh Shah School project was closed-out in August 2009.

SIGAR vaguely reported that the reason was that the Pentagon’s 2009 fiscal year was ending. The explanation does not make any sense. In addition, such a close out violates Pentagon regulations. U.S. Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation, Vol. 12, Chap. 27, Section 270204(F) states that projects are only closed-out “on completion.” The implication here is that there was pressure to show progress in Kapisa in 2009, even if there was none, so the school was simply labeled as completed.

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SIGAR has refused to name those responsible, but the Kabul Press will. Responsibility rests with the former and current PRT leaders, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John “Snake” Pechiney and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. W. Mark Heiser, with their boss, Task Force Warrior Commander Colonel Scott A. Spellmon and with his boss, Combined Joint Task Force - 82 Commander Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti.

This episode raises the troubling question of how many other Afghanistan reconstruction projects have been falsely labeled as completed or a success, when such is not the case? The Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team, while poorly staffed to perform reconstruction, is well-staffed for publicity. It has two public relations specialists, U.S. Air Force Captain Darrick B. Lee and Senior Airman Jason Troup. Assisting them are civic affairs specialists Captain Jordan Berry and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Joshua Franke, along with civil engineer/photographer, 1st Lieutenant Anthony Raffaele. Their collective job is to churn out positive stories (i.e., propaganda).

Captain Lee authored a September 14, 2009, press release on the initial SIGAR inspection.

It was a positive article laced with references to progress and partnership. There was no mention of a single problem that the SIGAR inspectors discovered. It is one thing to put a positive spin on facts, but it is another to generate a grossly misleading story. It is unlikely that the U.S. Congress intended that taxpayer funds, appropriated for use in publicizing actual military accomplishments, would be used for covering up military misconduct. The Kapisa and Parwan PRT needs more engineers and project managers, and fewer public affairs people writing phony press releases and taking slanted publicity photos.

Final Note: NATO refers to the project as the “Farukh Shah School.” This does not seem to be correct. Farukh Shah’s official title was Farrukh Shah Kabuli, King of Kabul and Ghazni.

He was killed by Mongol invaders in the Eleventh Century. His most important accomplishment was to be the Great, Great-Grandfather of Baba Fareed (1173-1266), who was the inspirational Sufi poet in the Punjab. Besides being the moving force behind what we now know as the Punjabi language, Baba Fareed is unique as he is revered by Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs for the simple, humble and holy life that he led.

One of his favorite sayings was: “There are not pearls in every sea, there is not gold in every mine.” He understood that not everyone is willing to follow the path to God. Baba Fareed would likely have forgiven the PRT officials for their shabby construction and lack of interest in the Nijrab school children. In keeping with his spirit, this author can only add that the school should have been built with more care.

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Comments (8)add comment

JAmes said:

Former Parawan/Kapisa PRT Member
You've got to be kidding, some reporter goes to Afghanistan for a week and then has the gall to report that we are building bad schools? The Afghans build these projects with little technology and expierence. We are slowly teaching them proper engineering skills but it takes time. They don't even have plumbing....stop trying to compare apples and oranges over there.
December 25, 2009
Votes: +1

Richard said:

Some Reporter?
Some Reporter?

Did you read the bio of the writer?

Mr. Matthew J. Nasuti was a Deputy City Attorney for Los Angeles and a U.S. Air Force Captain with Air Force Logistics Command. He helped oversee the construction of Comiso Air Station in Sicily. He served as a legal advisor on contract fraud to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and he worked as a contracts manager and later consultant to Bechtel Corp., the world’s largest construction company. Mr. Nasuti is recognized by the U.S. State Department as an expert in reconstruction. It hired him last year as a Senior City Management Advisor to one of its Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq.
December 25, 2009
Votes: +0

Another Former Kapisa/Parwan PRT Member said:

With all due respect to the reporter (read "none whatsoever"), let me explain that the PRT members were NOT the ones building the school buildings, roads, etc. The PRT members hired LOCAL AFGHAN CONTRACTORS to build this school. Some of these contractors (and frankly, government officials) were very good at taking American money and even better at hiding problems from the Americans, who were lucky to be able to perform as much QA as they did because they had 59 OTHER PROJECTS TO WATCH.

Not only did this school have to be accepted by the PRT, it also had to be accepted by the Kapisa Province education line director.

I may have had my own issues with some of the PRT members, but I'll defend them over a tourist anyday. And since this jackass is so much smarter than Lt Col Pechiney, maybe HE should have taken that totally thankless job.
December 29, 2009
Votes: +0

Matthew J. Nasuti said:

If you award a contract to a local inexperienced company, the PRT's are obligated to oversee that contractor. If they have too many projects and cannot oversee them properly, then they should scale back or ask for more resources. Every building in this school complex had serious structural defects. That is just shoddy oversight. The PRTs are great at putting out PR on how great they do, well they also need to be honest when they screw up. The province officials accepted the school because they were waiting for two years for it and gave up hope that it would ever be completed so they accepted it as it. We are building junk. The roads in Kapisa are no different. Instead of building concrete roads, the PRT's are building asphalt. It is quick and easy, but requires extensive maintenance, maintenance that the province cannot provide. The SIGAR auditors have told the PRT that they may be wasting taxpayer funds building these roads, but the auditors have been ignored. The roads begin to fall apart in a few years. That is nothing to be proud of. The PRTs are hurting the war effort with shoddy construction.
December 29, 2009 | url
Votes: +2

Chief Zincone said:

More on Farukh Shah School
Mr. Natsuti et al,

For clarification, I held the position of Kapisa PRT Information Operations Officer from Nov 08 until Jul 09 under the Command of Lt Col Pechiney. I am an Air Force CMSgt. The position I held is the position currently occupied by Capt Lee. If you would like to discuss the nuances between Information Operations and Public Affairs I'd be willing to do that via some other format. I will say this; I definitely agree with your statement above that "The Kapisa and Parwan PRT needs more engineers and project managers".

After writing everything below I had the following epiphany and decided it would be best to just share it with you from the start: The only way Farukh Shah School was closed out was because the Afghan people and the Afghan government wanted it closed out. It may be hard for you to believe, but it was acceptable to them. I do not state this as fact, just my deeply held belief based on nearly 9 months exposure to the Afghan people, government, and contracting industry. I also don't consider it to be a very good excuse, or any excuse at all. In a perfect world the PRT probably never should have accepted the project with so many deficiencies. However, I have another strongly held belief based on my time in Afghanistan and it is this: Afghanistan is the furthest thing in this world from a "perfect world".

Let's start with a simple premise I think all parties could probably agree on; Farukh Shah School was shoddily constructed. Why? I'm not 100% sure, but I'd want to have a full understanding of the following before making any decisions.

Do I have a realistic understanding of "quality standards" with regards to civil engineering/construction in Kapisa Province circa 2007 - 2010?

Do I have a realistic appreciation of the PRT's role in trying to enforce these standards?

Do I understand the concept of the Provincial Development Plan (PDP)? In theory the PDP is successful if the elected and appointed government officials, in consult with the people, are smartly identifying, prioritizing, and presenting potential projects for the PRT to fund, oversee, and eventually accept/close out.

Do I know that as late as Jun 2009, the Kapisa government had not agreed upon/presented an official PDP to the Kapisa PRT?

Do I have an appreciation for the PRT's role in trying to "guide" the Kapisa government toward a functioning PDP?

Do I have an understanding of how projects were accepted by PRTs (circa 2007 - 2009) in lieu of an official PDP?

Do I have an understanding of the limiting factors that might inhibit the team's ability to locate, reach, and inspect projects on a regular basis?

These seven questions are probably a good starting point for finding a more bona fide "reason" for the Farukh Shah School situation.

Now let me see if I can clear up a few points from above.

After spending 8 1/2 months in Afghanistan I can't think of a school, or hospital, or government building, or bazaar in all Afghanistan (old or new) that would be adequate for American school children.

Usually, if a project didn't close out on schedule, the scenario was pretty much as follows: The PRT engineers would do a final inspection. Deficiencies would be found and the Afghan contractor would request additional time, money etc...in order to complete the project up to standard. The PRT had a difficult decision to make. Do we terminate for cause? Or continue to work with the same contractor? We felt the number one reason we were in Afghanistan was to build the capacity of the Afghan people; in government, in media, and especially in development. So once the process started we had a vested interest in seeing the original Afghan contractors succeed. So we tended to bend over backwards to make sure that happened, but it wasn't always the case. The last half dozen or so missions that our team conducted were in some of the most remote and dangerous regions. Somewhere between 15 - 20 overdue projects were either going to be completed and paid for or terminated for cause. I believe we terminated about six of the projects. Please try and have an appreciation for the impact this was going to have on our "image" in those areas.

Finally, I found your statement "The PRTs are great at putting out PR on how great they do" mildly amusing on a personal level. I'm not trying to be a prick here, I get what you're saying, but after getting beaten down day after day, month after month on how we're losing the IO war, we'll it's just nice to get some props.


Chief Z
January 07, 2010
Votes: +2

Matthew J. Nasuti said:

Fair comments Chief.
January 07, 2010
Votes: +0

Doc Farley PRT Medical Officer 2008-2009 said:

Air Force Medical Officer
I have a deep appreciation for credentials. However, Matthew, know what hell you are talking about before you judge. 1 week in Afghanistan does not make you a subject matter expert on anything other than having severe diarrhea and where to find the cleanest shitters on the FOB. Some of us encountered IEDs and small arms fire trying to check the progress of these "junk schools" and roads. It stands to reason that if we get the shit kicked out of us trying to get into these areas to inspect them, then the contractors probably encounter the same obstacles as well. Put on some body armor and go see ALL of the outstanding projects that were completed in our AO.
October 15, 2010
Votes: +0

Doc Farley PRT Medical Officer 2008-2009 said:

Air Force Medical Officer
I deeply respect academic and professional credentials. However, Matthew, know what the hell you are talking about before you judge! One week in Afghanistan only makes you the "subject matter expert" of finding the cleanest shitters when you get your first round of explosive diarrhea in country. It seems, sir, that you have diarrhea of the mouth. Put on some damned body armor and go outside the wire and see all the outstanding completed projects the PRTs were responsible for. Some of us encountered IEDs and small arms fire attempting to oversee/inspect these projects in very hostile areas. It stands to reason that the contractors had to overcome tremendous adversity to finish these projects as well. How much was your per diem on this little trip to the war zone?
October 15, 2010
Votes: +1

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