It's no surprise by now that the U.S.;s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are prone to waste, fraud and abuse.
In fact, it’s the central message of a compelling new report just out this week. But even as John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan (SIGAR), warns again that the costly undertaking in war-torn Afghanistan is doomed to failure if the U.S. doesn’t address several major issues to get the project under control, for the first time ever he’s created a list of seven “high-risk” areas that are “especially vulnerable” to rampant waste, fraud and abuse moving into 2015.
The U.S. has already paid out $104 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction efforts – more than what we spent on rebuilding Europe after World War II, as previously reported here. Accountants from SIGAR said as long ago as four years earlier that they could only track less than 10 percent of that money.
WHY THIS MATTERS
After all the drone attacks and other devastation of war, the U.S. rebuilding projects were intended to leave a lasting positive legacy of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan—schools, hospitals, roads, dams and bridges. Instead, we’re leaving half-finished, unusable structures that cost American taxpayers a fortune.
Now, as Sopko said in the new report, “The evidence is clear that American taxpayer dollars ... are being placed at unnecessarily high levels of risk by widespread failure to ... implement prudent countermeasures.”
Here are the seven biggest risks to the $104 billion reconstruction efforts based on the new report:
The U.S.’s anti-corruption strategy is failing. Sopko blames the U.S.’s original strategy in Afghanistan for fostering a political climate conducive to corruption and stressed that he has often brought this to Congress’ attention.
“SIGAR has long been concerned about the threat that corruption poses to the reconstruction effort,” Sopko said in the report. “Every one of SIGAR’s quarterly reports to Congress has highlighted this threat – from the looting of the Kabul Bank and the failures of Afghanistan’s attorney general to prosecute senior officials, to the illegal land seizures and endemic extortion of ordinary Afghans for everyday services.”
The majority of the hundreds of billions already poured into reconstruction has gone to building roads, dams, hospitals, and schools – but the Afghans are not able to sustain much of that infrastructure without the continued financial support of the U.S. and other countries. In other words – when the money stops flowing, the structures won’t last long.
THREE: Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)
The questionable ability of the Afghan National Security Forces to stand on their own as the country’s main police defense force is another top threat to the region’s sustainability.
An earlier SIGAR audit found that the Afghan government would likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and Coalition support. A separate audit found that no one knew the overall literacy rate of the ANSF – despite a $200 million contract to improve literacy among the forces.
FOUR: Lax Oversight of On-Budget Support
Auditors have consistently been concerned about the risks posed to U.S. funds that are provided to Afghanistan in the form of on-budget assistance. SIGAR says the U.S. has committed more than $7.7 billion in this form of assistance since 2002 – and there’s been little oversight over much of that money. For example, SIGAR said the $236 million Partnership Contracts for Health program found that USAID “continues to provide millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in direct assistance with little assurance that the Afghan Ministry of Public Health is using these funds as intended.”
FIVE: Failed Counter-Narcotics Strategy
Afghanistan’s narcotics problem is one of the top threats that could completely undermine the entire reconstruction effort, as Sopko has noted many times. So far, the U.S. has spent about $7.8 billion fighting the country’s drug problem. So far that effort appears to be failing.
SIX: Contract Management and Oversight
Despite the billions we’ve spent on Afghanistan, the federal government doesn’t keep a central database to keep track of contract spending. As Sopko says in the report, “No one knows the precise value of contracting in the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.” Not having structured accountability over this massive operation makes tax dollars vulnerable to waste and abuse.
SEVEN: Lack of a Plan or Strategy
The auditors have routinely flagged the government’s lack of implementation and operational planning as a huge threat to the efforts in Afghanistan. “A lack of planning and strategy in making sure U.S. activities in Afghanistan actually contribute to overall national goals there threatens to cause agencies and projects to work at counter-purposes, spend money on frivolous endeavors, or fail to coordinate efforts to maximize impact,” the report said.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: