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U.S. Spends $23 Billion On Afghan Contracts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has spent over $23 billion on reconstruction and development contracts in Afghanistan since 2002, and auditors say about $1 billion of this is waste, a U.S. senator says.

The contract spending is expected to rise with President Barack Obama's planned surge of 30,000 U.S. forces into Afghanistan in the coming months, Senator Claire McCaskill said at a subcommitee hearing December 17.

"Currently there is a great deal we do not know about contracting in Afghanistan. We do know, however, that the president's new strategy in Afghanistan will bring a massive increase in the number and value of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan," the Democratic senator said.

The money has gone to projects ranging from road-building and power generation to agricultural and urban development and water sanitation, McCaskill's staff said in a memorandum prepared for the hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, which she chairs.

The panel is part of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The $23 billion contract spending estimate was made by the Federal Procurement Data System, a central depository of information on U.S. government contracting, the subcommittee memorandum said.

McCaskill said the waste identified by auditors amounted to nearly one in six dollars spent on Afghan contracts so far. She worried that the waste and fraud that had been seen in some contracting in Iraq would be repeated in Afghanistan.

Jeffrey Parsons, director of the Army Contracting Command, testified before the subcommittee that the Army is training contracting officers being sent to Afghanistan so they can better identify bad business practices.

Over 100,000 contractors are working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and that number could reach 160,000 next year, McCaskill said, citing estimates by the Congressional Research Service. Some two-thirds of the current contractors are Afghans, she said.

The Congressional Research Service recently said the United States has spent nearly $230 billion on the war in Afghanistan. That amount will jump to $300 billion once

Congress has approved a military spending bill for fiscal 2010. The House has approved it and the Senate is expected to act on the bill this week.