Billions of Dollars at Risk in U.S. Reconstruction Efforts in Afghanistan

Congress has appropriated close to $90 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction projects, but the U.S. has yet to see a return on the investment. The latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found “delays, cost overruns, and poor construction of infrastructure projects…[that] resulted in lost opportunities and in incalculable waste.”

Some of the highlights of SIGAR’s investigation into U.S. reconstruction efforts over the past year include $12.8 million in electrical equipment that is sitting unused; $6.3 million paid to maintain Afghan Army vehicles that had been destroyed; and a $400 million for a governance project that actually set back counterinsurgency efforts.

Most recently, SIGAR found that the U.S. $1.1 billion spent on fuel for the Afghan Army — fuel that may have come from Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions.

These incidents were uncovered recently, but they follow troubling pattern. As the report notes, “SIGAR’s work since 2009 has repeatedly identified problems in every area of the reconstruction effort — from inadequate planning, insufficient coordination, and poor execution, to lack of meaningful metrics to measure progress.”

More than ten years since the Afghanistan war began, U.S. has not resolved persistent problems in reconstruction efforts. As the military drawdown progresses, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are at risk.

The steady stream of aid to Afghanistan is expected to slow in the coming years. But the U.S. and allies have already committed to $16 billion in economic aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. Costs for maintaining the Afghan security forces is expected to come to over $4 billion per year.

The IMF and World Bank report that Afghanistan’s ability to close the gap between domestic revenue and spending “is becoming a more distant goal, likely to be reached only after 2032.” In the meantime, the U.S. and allies may have to cover the balance.

Expensive, unsustainable reconstruction projects have become a burden not just to Afghanistan’s economy, but to U.S. taxpayers as well. Moving forward, SIGAR writes, “lawmakers and Executive Branch agencies have an opportunity to conduct a strategic reexamination of reconstruction issues.” Policymakers owe it to the Americans to take advantage of this opportunity by ensuring that taxpayer dollars are not wasted in Afghanistan.

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