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Air Force may have put troops’ lives at risk in construction of new base, says Pentagon report

The Pentagon US Department of Defense (DoD/WikiCommons)
April 16, 2020

A new $100 million Air Force base in Niger may have violated federal law while it was under construction by skirting security standards and mishandling normal Defense Department procedures.

The completion of Nigerian Air Base 201 had been stalled for several years in a region of the country that needed a base of operations to combat Islamic terrorists due to the mismanagement, according to a report from the Pentagon’s inspector general released to the public on April 2.

The construction of the base was mishandled in several ways aimed to speed up the process by bypassing phases that require Congressional notice or approval. This includes not conducting site surveys early on, which in turn caused resource issues.

Additionally, the Air Force reportedly purchasing 12 guard towers costing roughly $3.7 million using procurement funds, which are used to finance equipment, instead of military construction funds, which are designed to pay for property construction and require congressional notification. In doing so, the Air Force may have violated the Antideficiency Act.

The Air Force also split the construction requirement for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations into six operations and maintenance projects that added up to $5.4 million, bypassing Congress again. Air Force officials told the DoD IG this was done to meet an urgent timeline.

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“However, all of the projects were known and each project on its own would not result in a ‘complete and useable facility,’ which means the projects should have been combined and reported to Congress,” the DoD IG wrote.

The Air Force needed to construct the base quickly, as there had been a number of terrorist attacks in the region. Four U.S. troops died in an attack on Oct. 4, 2017, Army Times reported.

“A few procedural missteps occurred in an effort to build a functional air base in a very remote area under very austere conditions,” said U.S. Africa Command spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns in an email to Military.com. “The construction of Nigerien Air Base 201 provides a valued capability to address and monitor the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel.”

The Air Force’s problems in constructing an air rescue and firefighting facility placed its troops’ lives at increased risk, according to IG report.

“In addition, the problems that we identified relating to the aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, [REDACTED], and airfield lights could lead to increased risk in safety and security,” the report reads. “Furthermore, the construction of the infrastructure necessary to support the ISR mission, such as munitions storage and handling areas, has not been completed.”

Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the Air Force pushed back against the report. They said that building in the Sahara Desert and changing operational requirements throughout the construction project caused challenges. Karns said that AFRICOM submitted multiple requests for a contingency construction authority as early as 2013 to address these challenges.

“We acknowledge the immense work and efforts put forth by AFRICOM and the Air Force,” DoD IG officials wrote in the report. “However, the circumstances did not negate the Air Force’s responsibility to ensure that construction projects were programmed in accordance with appropriation laws and regulations; construction, operations, and security standards were adhered to; and the appropriate waivers were coordinated and approved.”