NEW DELHI: Officials at the Pentagon spent this week trying to figure out exactly how a United States task force spent about $638 million on economic development in Afghanistan. Included in the list of expenses: rare Italian goats being airlifted into Afghanistan; embassy employees attending carpet tradeshows in Europe; jewelry-related trips to India; and a bill of $150 million on luxury villas.

At a Senate hearing, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said in prepared testimony that the task force lacked “strategic direction” and suffered from a “scattershot approach to economic development.” The SIGAR cited examples such as: “The $6 million program included shipping nine male goats to western Afghanistan from Italy, setting up a farm, lab and staff to certify their wool.”

A press release noted that "Coats, the Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee… highlighted $150 million spent by the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, a Pentagon business advocacy agency, on villas in Afghanistan,” as the SIGAR slammed the task force for spending $150 million on furnished, privately owned villas and hiring contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services and bodyguards for staff and visitors.

Sopko criticised the Pentagon and the task force for failing to track its spending. It’s not unclear, for instance, if the goats were eaten.

“We don’t know,” Sopko said. “This was so poorly managed.”

Perhaps even more pertinently, as as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., put it: “Was it worth it?”

The report refers to the $800 million effort led by the now defunct Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which Brian Keon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, right called a “very unusual animal”. Led by civilian business experts and aimed to develop the Afghan economy by jumpstarting the private sector, the task force was originally launched in Iraq before moving to Afghanistan in 2010.

The Committee called the hearing after SIGAR published a damning report, with Sopko testifying on Wednesday. McKeon put up little defense of the task force beyond disputing SIGAR’s estimated $43 million cost of a controversial natural gas station along with claims that McKeon’s office had been uncooperative.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was critical about task force spending and called the natural gas-station programme “dumb on its face,” given the cost of converting cars to natural gas exceeds the average income of Afghans.

“This is a terrible waste of taxpayer money when we have so many other uses for it,” McCaskill said.

"It sounded like they just got together and they said, 'Hey, this sounds like a great idea, and we have an unlimited budget. Let's just do it and see if it works.' And that's why no one could really say with any credibility that the programs were effective," Sopko stated.

Paul Brinkley, who led the task force in Iraq and later Afghanistan from 2006 to 2011, defended his oversight in a letter and other documents. “A meaningful and balanced review cannot be accomplished through a sustained media campaign or a practice of repeating uncorroborated allegations,” Brinkley wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee.