$45 Billion in Tax Dollars Goes Missing in Afghanistan
Policy + Politics

$45 Billion in Tax Dollars Goes Missing in Afghanistan

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Hundreds of millions of dollars are missing in action in Afghanistan, and auditors are blaming the Pentagon’s flawed accounting practices for the problem. 

A new report from the office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), revealed that there’s virtually no way to know what happened to a large chunk of money the Defense Department spent in Afghanistan before 2010.

Related: $100 Billion in Aid Squandered in Afghanistan

The auditors said DOD handed over data only for $21 billion of the total $66 billion it spent rebuilding the war-torn country. But unlike most cases of missing money in Afghanistan (of which there are plenty), the auditors don’t blame this on corruption or waste—but rather on accounting issues.

The Commander’s Emergency Response Program, for example, is set up in such a way that it’s extremely difficult to monitor all of the money spent on the program’s projects. Under that program, commanders may spend money to respond to emergencies like floods and fires. Any expense below $500,000 isn’t treated as a traditional defense contract and doesn’t have to be recorded in the same way.

The Pentagon only had data for about 57 percent of the total $795 million spent by that program between the years 2002 and 2013.

Related: 7 Threats to U.S. Rebuilding Efforts in Afghanistan

The report blamed the Pentagon’s earlier (and since discontinued) process for tracking contracts. Today, when DOD awards a contract, it enters the contract into the Federal Procurement Database along with the specific pool of money that will be used to pay the contract.

Before 2010, however, the Pentagon wasn’t required to identify the pool of money the contracts were being paid from when it came to foreign military equipment and arming the Afghan National Security Forces. No wonder those transactions were and are nearly impossible to track.

Out of the total amount DOD has spent in Afghanistan, more than $57 billion has gone to the Afghan Forces – but the Pentagon can only account for about $17 billion.

Unlike in most of SIGAR’s reports, Sopko did not include any recommendations in this audit. “SIGAR is presenting this data here to inform Congress and the U.S. taxpayer how their reconstruction dollars are being spent in Afghanistan,” Sopko said. 

Related: Agencies Don’t Know Which Women’s Programs Get Millions in Afghanistan 

This is only the latest example of missing taxpayer money in Afghanistan. SIGAR routinely cranks out eyebrow-raising reports flagging serious waste, fraud or abuse that has plagued the 13-year reconstruction effort.

Early this year, the watchdogs released a scathing report revealing the Pentagon had no way to verify whether the annual $300 million going to the Afghan Police Force was ending up in the right hands. In another example, SIGAR noted U.S. agencies couldn’t identify all the various projects, programs and initiatives supporting Afghan women. They don’t how much they’ve spent on the individual efforts, which together have cost at least $64 million.

Sopko has intensified his scrutiny of the U.S.’s rebuilding mission in Afghanistan—raising questions about whether we’re any closer to achieving a stable and sustainable country hundreds of billions of dollar (and tens of thousands of lives) later. Overall, the U.S. has poured more than $104 billion into Afghanistan since 2002.

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