In 2002 someone in the US government decided that we should assist in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. According to SIGAR in their 2016 report to Congress, the United States, along with other coalition partners, initiated projects to help reconstruct Afghanistan, which had been devastated by nearly 30 years of conflict.
Since its creation in 2008, SIGAR, IG for Afghanistan rebuilding oversight, has issued 37 inspection reports examining 45 DOD reconstruction projects with a combined value of about $1.1 billion. The projects were located in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and included 16 Afghan National Police (ANP) and 13 Afghan National Army (ANA) bases, 5 schools, 3 medical facilities, 3 incinerator locations, 2 storage facilities, 1 road, 1 bridge, and 1 electrical plant.
That however is not all of the rebuilding/revitalizing projects. One estimate is there are about 1,400 ongoing, over budget, incomplete, shut down, substandard, destroyed, or otherwise rendered inactive projects throughout Afghanistan and like Pac-Man crunching their way through many millions and billions possibly of mostly US funds for the last fifteen years.
Through December 31, 2015, Congress had appropriated about $113.1 billion for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have carried out most of those reconstruction activities, which include capacity building programs; economic development projects; the acquisition of vehicles, equipment and clothing for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF); and construction and renovation projects for various types of facilities and infrastructure for both ANSDF and civilian use.
World Bank estimated that in 1975 there were 12.58 million living in Afghanistan; 2005, 24.4 million; and 2016, 33.4 million. According to the UNHCR, there are approximately 2.6 million registered refugees in 70 countries around the world, with the majority (95 per cent) being hosted by two countries, the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. About three in four Afghans have gone through internal, external or multiple displacement in their lives.
Those statistics suggest a few things: first, with that many people in the country then why haven’t they conquered their invaders and moved on to establish a more stable government and economy especially with the input of so much money from around the world; second, someone isn’t exactly slowing down their favorite pastime activities obviously given that those figures indicate an addition of 21 million people in 30 years; and third, with that many housed in Iran and Pakistan why are we even there because its obvious where their sympathies seem to lie.
The April 2017 Quarterly Report to Congress for SIGAR was issued in which the new Administration became engaged in a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster visited Kabul, meeting with senior Afghan and Coalition officials to gather first-hand impressions for the review.
In the new report, it mentions how for four years SIGAR had been requesting interaction and information from DoD, State, and the USAID but as usual none of the three chose to respond. Certainly a no-brainer as to why. With the continuation of hostilities and the need to get a grip on US spending, this has obviously like so many other projects and agencies become a priority for SIGAR to review and report accurately upon.
This quarter, SIGAR:
- issued 16 audits, inspections, special projects, and other products.
- identified approximately $2.1 billion in savings for the U.S. taxpayer for the quarter.
- published two performance audit reports.
- completed five financial audits of U.S.-funded contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements to rebuild Afghanistan. These financial audits identified more than $7.3 million in questioned costs as a result of internal-control deficiencies and noncompliance issues.
- published two inspection reports. These reports examined the structurally damaged buildings SIGAR previously identified at Baghlan Prison and construction of the Balkh University women’s dormitories.
- Office of Special Projects issued seven products examining a range of issues including locations and operating conditions at 30 USAID-supported public health facilities in Ghazni Province; the general usability of and potential structural, operational, and maintenance issues for 26 schools in Balkh Province; and six Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs-funded Good Performers Initiative infrastructure projects in Ghazni Province.
- investigations resulted in three criminal information charges, two convictions, one sentencing, $150,000 in restitutions, and a civil settlement of $40 million. Additionally, SIGAR initiated 15 cases and closed 14, bringing the total number of ongoing investigations to 262.
- suspension and debarment program referred 12 individuals and 16 companies for debarment based on evidence developed as part of investigations conducted by SIGAR in Afghanistan and the United States. These referrals bring the total number of individuals and companies referred by SIGAR since 2008 to 837, encompassing 465 individuals and 372 companies to date.
One smart first step would be to do what SIGAR recommended years ago, which is for each of the three major agencies in the reconstruction effort—State, USAID, and DOD—to ‘rack and stack’ their top and worst performing projects so they know where to invest further and where to cut their losses.”
—Special Inspector General John F. Sopko
Here are a sampling of problems from Afghanistan that have been percolating for most of the eight years during the last administration.
- USAID spent a total of $96.7 million from 2004 through 2014 to reform the existing system of land administration.
- Afghan soldier’s equipment and outfitting is shoddy at best because of bad or unreliable information.
- The financial audits identified $7,301,539 in questioned costs as a result of internal control deficiencies and noncompliance issues.
- Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) awarded an $8.8 million contract to Omran Holding Group, an Afghan firm, to build a 495-inmate prison in Baghlan Province. State officials informed SIGAR that no work has been done at the prison since the November 2015 site visit and its discovery of several major deficiencies.
- Balkh University women’s dormitories construction began in 2013 and was to have been completed roughly by 2015, As of now according to SIGAR they are two years behind and millions over budget while soe of what has been completed is substandard.
- Ghost soldiers have been consuming a lot of payroll money. Since 2002, a big chunk of money has gone to pay Afghan soldiers and police. But it turns out a lot of those troops may not, in fact, exist. SIGAR has raised questions over these payroll payments for years but been ignored.
- Despite a U.S. investment of $8.5 billion in counter narcotics, Afghan opium production is at an all-time high.
- A huge hotel which we spent millions on has never been completed, fallen into disrepair, and is virtually uninhabitable at this point.
- A hospital which was to have been completed is still lacking in equipment, decent construction, and other things.
SIGAR has a “High Risk Afghanistan” website that is available detailing eight high risk areas and other information that will turn your stomach at the seemingly useless loss of lives, equipment, construction needs, and US dollars. In fact according to the site after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. has spent more on Afghanistan’s reconstruction than it did on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.
I know I probably sound insensitive and cruel but honestly this is not an issue that has an end. Estimates are that the government even if stable would have a difficult time sustaining itself even with all that has been done to help them. Without strong long-term leadership the Taliban, Iran, or any number of infighting groups could easily destroy its fragile government and economy.
So basically that leaves the rest of the world financial centers and in particular the US paying to oversee and prop up this country for possibly fifty years or more. None of the countries and banks can afford that. Additionally, graft, fraud, and constant war have made sure even the efforts already made have barely reached those intended to benefit.
Just remember this is only one area of focus in DoD and USAID. There are many more and until now DoD and USAID have stalled in reporting and transparency efforts by Inspector Generals. We could have paid off a lot of interest and principal on our national with that money.