Watchdog Says Billions Still Going Down The Afghan Drain

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American taxpayers are losing billions of dollars every year to corruption in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials have no real strategy to address the problem, a federal watchdog told Congress Wednesday.

Americans have spent $113 billion rebuilding Afghanistan, more than the U.S. spent rebuilding Europe after World War II, adjusted for inflation, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Corruption has long been “one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction effort,” and it isn’t improving, but the U.S. “continues to operate without a comprehensive overall strategy for coordinating and executing effective measures to reduce the malign influence of corruption in Afghan society,” the IG said.

As U.S. presence and oversight in Afghanistan dwindles and Afghans are left to run programs independently, prompting fears of corruption to increase.

“The risk of fraud, waste, and abuse of reconstruction funds in Afghanistan is growing, even as the ability to exercise effective oversight is increasingly constrained,” the IG said.

Nearly 90 percent of Afghans said corruption is a problem in their daily lives in a 2015 survey by The Asia Foundation, the highest percentage reported in a decade. More than half of Afghans who interacted with police in 2015 — at 53.3 percent — said they paid a bribe, up from 45.1 percent in 2014.

Drug production and trafficking also furthers corruption and hinders progress in Afghanistan. The U.S. has poured $8.4 billion into counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, but the country remains the world’s largest producer of opium. Afghanistan’s processed opium constitutes 90 percent of the world’s heroin supply, and an estimated 11 percent of Afghans are drug users, according to the IG.

“The reconstruction that has already cost $113 billion will continue for years and, as currently planned, will cost many billions more,” the IG said. “The success of this effort critical depends on the U.S. government’s ability to efficiently and effectively provide reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan and ensure that funds are not wasted or abused.”

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