The U.S. Air Force spent $486 million on 16 C-27A aircraft for Afghanistan’s air force, and then decided to scrap all of them, selling the metal for just $32,000.

Now, the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is investigating how this happened – and why.

“I am concerned that the officials responsible for planning and executing the scrapping of the planes may not have considered other possible alternatives in order to salvage taxpayer dollars,” John Sopko wrote in a letter dated October 3 to the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah James.

“I was also informed that an Afghan construction company paid approximately 6 cents a pound for the scrapped planes, which came to a total of $32,000,” Sopko added.

According to a Reuters report, the investigation has been ongoing since last December, when the apparent waste first came to public attention.

There were 20 C-27A aircraft in the original order from the Italian company Alenia as part of the G222 program, but it was ended when it became clear the Air Force was having trouble maintaining the planes and finding spare parts to refurbish them with.

In Sopko’s words, the project faced “sustained, serious performance, maintenance, and spare parts problems and the planes were grounded” in March 2013. Later, they “Were turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and have since been scrapped.”

According to Pentagon spokesman Major Brad Avots, the destruction was due to a desire “to minimize impact on drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.”

There are still four remaining C-27As remaining from the initial order that have not been scrapped, but their fate has yet to be determined.

“Working in a wartime environment such as Afghanistan brings with it many challenges, and we continually seek to improve our process,” Avots said when questioned about how the Pentagon planned to handle those four planes.

But the special inspector general wants a more robust explanation, and the Defense Department and the Air Force must respond to his letters by October 17.

[photo credit: SIGAR]