WASHINGTON -- U.S. troops in Afghanistan are facing a greater threat from roadside bombs due to shoddy and incomplete work on a major highway by contractors, according to the official responsible for providing independent oversight of the reconstruction effort there.
In his "safety alert" letter, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko wrote that his office has found evidence of "potentially significant contract fraud in the installation and inspection" of systems designed to prevent insurgent access to roadway culverts.
"Through our preliminary investigative work, we estimate that a large number of culvert denial systems might have been falsely reported by Afghan contractors as complete when, in fact, the denial systems were not installed or were installed in a defective manner, rendering them ineffective and susceptible to compromise by insurgents to emplace IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," wrote Sopko.
Culverts are perfect places to hide an IED, which continue to be insurgents' main weapon and the primary killer of Americans. Last year, the Taliban managed to deploy 16,000 IEDS, and as The Huffington Post's David Wood noted, they are on track to exceed that record this year.
Culvert denial systems often look like screens placed across a drain so that water and debris can flow through, without leaving enough room for bombs.
Sopko's Oct. 10 letter was addressed to Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon did not return a request for comment.
"Given the increased risk of IED attack against U.S. forces resulting from the missing or defective culvert denial systems, we are providing this information to you for immediate action and dissemination to all relevant personnel," added Sopko. "Again, our foremost interest in this matter is the safety and protection of U.S. forces in Afghanistan."
Sopko identified a "major highway" as an area of particular concern, although the exact location was redacted.
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Start of War: Oct. 7, 2001
<em>American soldiers hide behind a barricade during an explosion, prior to fighting with Taliban forces November 26, 2001 at the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)</em>
Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: 88,000
<em>US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from the USS Bataan's Amphibious Ready Group arrive December 14, 2001 at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons. (Photo by Johnny Bivera/Getty Images)</em>
Number of Troops at War's Peak
<em>U.S. Marines begin to form up their convoy at a staging area near Kandahar, Afghanistan, as they await orders to begin their trek to Kandahar to take control of the airfield 13 December, 2001. (DAVE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the war's peak: About 101,000 in 2010. Allies provided about 40,000.
<em>U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House on June 22, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Withdrawal plans: 23,000 U.S. troops expected to come home by the end of the summer, leaving about 68,000 in Afghanistan. Most U.S. troops expected to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though the U.S. is expected to maintain a sizeable force of military trainers and a civilian diplomatic corps.
Number of U.S. Casualties
<em>American flags, each one representing the 4,454 American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, move in the breeze at The Christ Congregational United Church March 17, 2008 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. casualties: At least 1,828 members of the U.S. military killed as of Tuesday, according to an Associated Press count. According to the Defense Department, 15,786 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action.
Afghan Civilian Casualties
<em>Asan Bibi, 9, sits on a bench as burn cream is applied to her at Mirwais hospital October 13, 2009 Kandahar, Afghanistan. She, her sister and mother were badly burned when a helicopter fired into their tent in the middle of the night on October 3rd, according to their father. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Afghan civilian casualties: According to the United Nations, 11,864 civilians were killed in the conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began reporting statistics, and the end of 2011.
Cost of the War
<em>An Iraqi man counts money behind a pile of American dollars in his currency exchange bureau in Baghdad on April 11, 2012. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Cost of the war: $443 billion from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Number of Times Obama Has Visited Afghanistan
<em>US President Barack Obama speaks to troops during a visit to Bagram Air Field on May 1, 2012 in Afghanistan. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) </em><br><br> Number of times Obama has visited Afghanistan: 3 as president, including Tuesday, and 1 as a presidential candidate.