Rebuilding Afghanistan collectively cost taxpayers $115 billion over the past 15 years, but much of that money has actually been wasted on corrupt officials and even funneled into terrorist organizations, according to authorities.
Congress created a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to monitor the billions spent on reconstruction, which concludes that pumping money into a struggling country wastes tax dollars and hampers reconstruction efforts. (RELATED: Report: US Gov’t Aid ‘Fueling’ The Taliban In Afghanistan)
Limited oversight of funds, and the U.S. government’s “perverse incentive structure which rewards officials with pushing money out the door, without ever holding them accountable for how well that money is spent” led to money “sloshing around the Afghan economy like a bathtub running over,” John Sopko, head of SIGAR said Thursday.
Sopko gave an honest, if not painful account of the troubled effort to rebuild Afghanistan to an audience at Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.
Founded by Congress in 2008, SIGAR identified around $2 billion dollars wasted in the Afghanistan reconstruction project, and recouped about $950 million in civil forfeiture from those responsible. But more important for Sopko is the opportunity to change how the U.S. approaches rebuilding efforts.
Over the past few years, SIGAR realized “that anti-corruption efforts were often the ugly stepchild of the reconstruction effort; that the international reconstruction efforts actually made corruption worse; other policy and political objectives were given a higher priority, and even when anti-corruption efforts were prioritized, they met a wall of resistance from the Afghan government,” Sopko said.
The “wall of resistance” went all the way to the top of the government. When the Afghan Major Crimes Task Force, with guidance from the U.S., convinced top officials to arrest a man who was caught on tape plotting to launder $3 billion from U.S. aid money out of the country, then-president Hamid Karzai released the suspect and let him leave the country.
Anti-corruption must be a commitment with any reconstruction project, Sopko says, and the U.S. must figure out how to provide aid to war-torn countries if we are to continue “nation building.”
“Basically after every international intervention the United States has engaged in starting with the Korean War, we’ve heard promises from politicians that we won’t do nation-building ever again,” Sopko said. “Yet over 9,000 troops sit in Afghanistan and thousands more have returned to Iraq. So if we’re going to keep doing this, shouldn’t we find a way to do it better?” (RELATED: US Paid $150 Million To Build These Afghan Luxury Villas [PHOTOS])
To help the government better allocate aid money, SIGAR released its first report — published on a slick, interactive website — in September, where they recommended that “the U.S. government should take into account the amount of assistance a host country can absorb, and agencies should improve their ability to effectively monitor this assistance.”
Congress already earmarked $9 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction that hasn’t been allocated. SIGAR will remain as watchdog until the annual aid amount drops below $250 million.
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