A Marine patrols near the Kajaki River. (David Goldman / AP)
Surrounded by steep mountains and barren plains, the Kajaki dam has been home to a small combat outpost of Marines and Afghan soldiers over the years. They would be excused for thinking they had been deposited at the end of the earth.
The United States first began construction on the Kajaki dam in the early 1950s. Construction on the project was halted after the Soviet invasion in 1979. It resumed after the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban and rebuild Afghanistan.
Today, Kajaki stands at the center of a debate that goes to the heart of America’s role in Afghanistan. The project is seen either as a symbol of American hubris gone awry or America’s steadfast commitment to rebuild Afghanistan.
That debate will likely surface again with the release of a report Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, after using multiple contractors and subcontractors, spending tens of millions of dollars, and losing scores of U.S. and coalition lives, the work is still not complete,” John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, wrote in a letter accompanying his office’s quarterly report .
“As some wryly note, the ancient Egyptians took less time — about 20–25 years — to complete the Great Pyramid at Giza,” Sopko added.
Now, the government has decided to turn the last $75 million phase of construction over to the Afghans. The United States has already spent $75 million on the dam since 2004.
Sopko said his office is concerned about Afghanistan’s ability to manage the contract.
For its part, the U.S. Agency for International Development has said it will have strict financial controls in place and turning the contract over to the Afghans is a natural part of the transition as the U.S. draws down in Afghanistan.
“USAID conducted a rigorous financial management assessment of the organization and determined that DABS has the ability to effectively manage the Kajaki Dam project,” Gordon Weynand, a USAID official, said in a statment. DABS is the Afghan utility company.
Weynand said energy from the dam project already reaches 185,000 Afghans, a significant increase from 2003, when the work on rehabilitating two turbines began.