Afghan security forces
Published: February 11th, 2013
Half of Afghanistan’s population paid at least one bribe to public officials over the past year, for a total of $3.9 billion, according to a recent UN report on corruption. $3.9 billion is twice Afghanistan’s domestic revenue, and one quarter the amount international donors have pledged in civilian aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.
The findings highlight ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Over the past eleven years, the U.S. has allocated close to $90 billion for Afghanistan aid, including over $20 billion for governance and economic development.
The effectiveness of U.S. aid to Afghanistan has long been questioned. On the security side, the U.S. has appropriated over $50 billion to train and equip Afghan forces since 2002. Yet according to a Pentagon assessment, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is capable of operating independently.
The story is similar on economic and development aid. According to one estimate, 70 percent of aid to Afghanistan goes to overhead costs, 15 percent goes to the intended recipient, and 15 percent is “lost, stolen or misappropriated.”
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. government watchdog that oversees efforts in Afghanistan, wrote in 2010,
“The majority of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan has been provided without the benefit of such a strategy [to combat corruption]. While the Afghan government has established a number of anti-corruption institutions, they lack independence, audit authority, and capacity. U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have provided relatively little assistance to some key Afghan oversight institutions.”
International donors have tied future funding to improvement on humanitarian and anticorruption efforts. The Afghanistan government remains publicly committed to reducing fraud and abuse, but progress seems uncertain.
For example, according to the UN report, the number of bribes in Afghanistan decreased by 9 percent since 2009. But the total amount paid in bribes increased by 40 percent.
Similarly, a recent SIGAR report found that Afghan officials are stonewalling U.S. efforts to track the flow of cash out of the Kabul airport. An estimated $4.5 billion was carried out of Afghanistan in 2011, raising fears of money laundering and cash smuggling.
Although the U.S. has committed to withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014, continued support for Afghanistan’s security forces and efforts to build economic stability and governance will likely cost billions of dollars each year. Without a new strategy for our efforts in Afghanistan, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars could be lost through waste and corruption.
Published: February 6th, 2013
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.
Published: January 31st, 2013
General John Allen, the outgoing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, recommended maintaining a substantial military presence in Afghanistan through the summer, according to a Wall Street Journal interview. The White House has yet to announce a plan for the drawdown of the 68,000 troops still in Afghanistan. Also undecided is the number of troops that will remain after 2014 for training, advising, and counterterrorism operations.
Afghanistan War Takes A Toll On The U.S. Economy
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Is it too late to address the effect the Afghanistan war will have on the U.S. economy? Maybe, there are certainly some steps we can take. The first one is ending the war and developing a new strategy for more effective (and less costly) engagement with Afghanistan.
General Seeks Sustained Afghan Role
Wall Street Journal by Maria Abi-Habib
The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan said he has recommended that the White House maintain a substantial U.S. military presence through the summer fighting season, giving new details about commanders’ preferences as President Barack Obama weighs the pace of withdrawal.
US blacklists Afghan airline accused of smuggling opium
Afghanistan’s largest private airline, Kam Air, has been barred from receiving US military contracts amid allegations of drug smuggling, officials say.
No US peace dividend after Afghanistan
Financial Times by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes
Nearly 12 years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began, a war-weary America is getting ready to leave. But there will be little in the way of a peace dividend for the US economy once the fighting stops.
Money Pit: The Monstrous Failure of US Aid to Afghanistan
World Affairs Journal by Joel Brinkley
The total amount of nonmilitary funds Washington has appropriated since 2002 “is approximately $100 billion”—more than the US has ever spent to rebuild a country. That estimate came out in July. Since then, Congress has appropriated another $16.5 billion for “reconstruction.” And all of that has not bought the United States or the Afghans a single sustainable institution or program.
How We Fight: Fred Kaplan’s ‘Insurgents,’ on David Petraeus
New York Times by Thanassius Cambanis
The counterinsurgency cult was more than a fad, Kaplan establishes. But it was much less than a revolution.
Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan
Huffington Post by Ann Jones
Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings.
Published: January 28th, 2013
“The true cost of the [Afghanistan] war is only just beginning,” Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently wrote in Financial Times. “Indeed, the costs after withdrawal may exceed those during the war. Choices made in the past decade mean high costs for years to come – and will constrain other national security spending.”
Stiglitz, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, and Bilmes, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, are no strangers to the concept of hidden and delayed war costs. In 2008 they authored a groundbreaking study showing that the Iraq war, officially counted at $800 billion, would likely cost on the order of $3 trillion.
The same thing will happen in Afghanistan, the authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War write. The direct cost of the war has already topped $600 billion. Ongoing military operations will bring that total to at least $700 billion through 2014.
Even after U.S. forces transition from a combat to a training and advising role, the financial burden of the war will continue. Stiglitz and Bilmes highlight some of the big costs, like caring for the veterans of the Afghanistan war (total estimated cost: $1 trillion); supporting the Afghan security forces ($5 billion to $8 billion per year).
U.S. aid to Afghanistan is also sure to be a significant issue. Congress has already appropriated close to $90 billion — over $50 billion for security assistance and close to $40 billion for economic and humanitarian reconstruction. Despite this significant investment, the Afghan security forces remain largely incapable of operating independently of U.S. and allied trainers. Meanwhile, billions of aid dollars have been wasted on unneeded and unsustainable projects, or simply lost to fraud and corruption.
Congress is taking small steps to increase transparency and accountability in U.S. aid to Afghanistan. But it may be too little too late.
“In all of their nation’s history, Afghans have never seen such wealth or experienced such beneficence as the West is providing now,” writes Pulitzer prize winner Joel Brinkley. “But instead of creating a model program of nation building, all of that has badly distorted the economy and the people’s expectations.”
In Afghanistan, the U.S. strategy has created an aid bubble and made little sustainable progress on the security front. In the U.S., the war has been a drag on the economy, driving up the projected national debt.
“The legacy of poor decision-making from the expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will live on in a continued drain on our economy – long after the last troop returns to American soil,” Stiglitz and Bilmes conclude.
Is it too late to address the effect the Afghanistan war will have on the U.S. economy? Maybe, there are certainly some steps we can take. The first one is ending the Afghanistan war and developing a new strategy for more effective (and less costly) engagement with Afghanistan. Another essential step is reining in government spending (and the out-of-control defense budget in particular). These won’t be easy steps, but they are crucial if we want to get our fiscal house in order.
Published: January 24th, 2013
Last week’s suicide bomb attack on Afghanistan’s intelligence agency was followed by an attack on the headquarters of the Kabul traffic department a few days later. The coordinated assaults have raised questions about Afghanistan’s security forces and intelligence capabilities, and whether the billions the U.S. has spent on security assistance has been effective.
Report: U.S. spent $6.8 million on nonexistent equipment
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
According to a new audit by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. spent $6.8 million on maintenance for vehicles that had not been seen in over a year, had never been seen, or had been destroyed.
Taliban Stage Attack on Kabul
Wall Street Journal by Maria Abi-Habib and Ziaulhaq Sultani
Insurgents Monday stormed the traffic-department headquarters in Kabul, using the compound to target nearby Afghan police headquarters and setting off a gun battle that continued for hours.
Sen. Claire McCaskill leaps hurdles to overhauling wartime contracting
McClatchy by Lindsay Wise
This month – after half a dozen years of hearings, reports, overseas fact-finding trips, painful compromises and some last-minute, round-the-clock negotiating – the first substantial overhaul of the federal government’s wartime contracting practices since World War II finally became law, with McCaskill as its chief architect.
Time to Pull the Plug On Afghanistan War
Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor
We’ve already paid a huge price in lives, misery and money, including multiple deployments and suicides…Does anyone really believe that keeping large numbers of our military there will lead to a long-term, satisfactory outcome?
Afghanistan’s colossal intelligence failure
Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel by Candace Rondeaux
[Perhaps] NATO and U.S. officials will finally sit down to hash out what to do next with America’s top partner in the fight against terrorism in South and Central Asia. The White House in particular, might want to consider whether it can continue to tie America’s fortunes to intelligence outfits like NDS without first figuring out how (and whether it’s possible) to help governments like Karzai’s to clean these agencies up.
Foreign Policy by John Arquilla
After more than a decade of nation-building in Afghanistan, with at best mixed results, perhaps it is time to take an opposite tack…This would mean challenging the guiding notion of democratization that has, thus far, cost us and our allies several thousand casualties and about a trillion dollars — to little effect.
Published: December 31st, 2012
2012 saw some important milestones in the Afghanistan war. The last of the surge troops left Afghanistan in September. U.S. and Afghan officials met twice to discuss post-2014 plans. The international community emphasized its continued commitment to Afghanistan by pledging billions in economic aid.
But the past year also brought more questions about whether the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan were an effective use of taxpayer money.
Below is a roundup of the top reports in 2012 that uncovered examples of wasteful spending and an ineffective strategy in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan’s National Power Utility: $12.8 million in DOD-purchased equipment sits unused, and USAID paid a contractor for work not done. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, December 2012)
Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance (The New York Times on the Department of Defense annual Afghanistan assessment, December 2012)
- “A bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners”
DOD Decision Makers Need Additional Analyses to Determine Costs and Benefits of Returning Excess Equipment (The Government Accountability Office, December 2012)
- “[The military’s equipment in Afghanistan] estimated to be worth more than $36 billion, has accumulated during a 10-year period. DOD officials also estimate that it could cost $5.7 billion to return or transfer equipment from Afghanistan.
- “Five of seven fiscal year 2011 AIF [Afghanistan infrastructure] projects are 6-15 months behind schedule, and most projects may not achieve desired COIN benefits for several years”
- “The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF [Afghan National Security] facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and coalition support.”
- “The ANSF lacks personnel with the technical skills required to operate and maintain critical facilities, such as water supply, waste water treatment, and power generation.”
- “The Ministry of Defense’s procurement process is unable to provide the Afghan army with O&M supplies in a timely manner.”
U.S. probes reported record-shredding of fuel buys for Afghan army (Reuters on SIGAR letter, Interim Report on Afghan National Army Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants, September 2012)
- “Investigators are probing reports of record-shredding by officials in the U.S.-led NATO command that trains the Afghan army after learning that records of fuel purchases for the Afghans totaling nearly $475 million are gone.”
Military’s Own Report Card Gives Afghan Surge an F (Wired on ISAF report on Enemy Initiated Attacks, September 2012)
- “The U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan ended last week. Conditions in Afghanistan are mostly worse than before it began. That conclusion doesn’t come from anti-war advocates. It relies on data recently released by the NATO command in Afghanistan.”
USAID has disbursed $9.5 billion for reconstruction and funded some financial audits as required, but many audits face significant delays, accountability limitations, and lack of resources (SIGAR, April 2012)
USAID spent almost $400 Million on an Afghan stabilization project despite uncertain results, but has taken steps to better assess similar Efforts (SIGAR, April 2012)
Published: December 24th, 2012
The U.S. is looking to shift its military strategy in Afghanistan, moving from a combat role to training and advising the Afghan security forces. The Wall Street Journal reports that the shift could be implemented next year.
Despite being billed as a changed strategy, this move is really just a clarification of the current strategy. The U.S. plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, letting Afghan security forces take the lead role for ongoing counterinsurgency operations.
If the transition from U.S. and allied forces to local forces begins next year, some of the 66,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan may be withdrawn earlier. If the transition is undertaken closer to the 2014 deadline, some troops may stay longer.
The “shift” in the U.S. strategy is less a shift than a hint at the drawdown timeline for the next two years. An accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops would be good first step, but it falls short of what is needed: a reevaluation of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
The current strategy relies on a heavy military footprint today and the capabilities of the Afghan security forces tomorrow. But reliance on military force hasn’t solved Afghanistan’s security problems. In fact, there is clear evidence that increasing troop levels actually contributes to an increase in the number of insurgent attacks.
As for the second piece of the strategy — the Afghan security forces, which are supposed take the lead in 2014 — U.S. training efforts seem to have fallen short. Congress has allocated over $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan since 2002. The funds support programs to train and equip local Afghan forces.
Despite the billions invested in Afghanistan’s security forces, serious doubts about their capabilities remain. According to a Pentagon report released just last week, only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades can operate without support from the U.S. and allies.
Focusing on the training mission in won’t solve the fundamental problems with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. After eleven years and more than $500 billion, it’s time for U.S. leaders to eliminate wasteful war spending and develop a strategy that works.
Published: December 10th, 2012
It’s no secret that public support for the war in Afghanistan is fading. According to a recent opinion poll, 66 percent think the costs of the war outweigh the benefits — up from 41 percent five years ago. 60 percent of Americans support withdrawing troops as soon as possible, according to an October Pew poll.
A new part of the debate over U.S. policy in Afghanistan is the growing support in Congress for ending the war.
Last week, the Senate approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for an accelerated drawdown in Afghanistan. While the measure is nonbinding, it is a clear sign that Congress may be catching up to the public.
The Senate also passed a measure to improve oversight of wartime contracting. The amendment implements the recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which determined that as much as $60 billion has been lost due to contract waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Momentum for changing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is growing in the House too. Some former supporters of the war have recently spoken out in support of ending the war. Over 90 representatives, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), arguing that “there can be no military solution in Afghanistan.”
“We are writing to urge you [the president] to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that best serves the interests of the American people and our brave troops on the ground.,” the letter reads. “That strategy is simple: an accelerated withdrawal to bring to an end the decade-long war as soon as can safely and responsibly be accomplished.”
Of course, despite the growing bipartisan consensus for a new strategy in Afghanistan, there are still some who support continuing the current strategy. The administration has committed to withdrawing the 68,000 combat troops over the next two years. Some administration officials are reportedly considering keeping about 10,000 troops to support ongoing counterterrorism operations.
Still others have called for keeping 30,000 troops in the country, a move that would cost over $30 billion each year.
The U.S. has already spent close to $600 billion and over ten years in Afghanistan — a clear sign that the current strategy isn’t working. Spending billions more to sustain a large military presence is not only unnecessary, it is fiscally irresponsible. The momentum in Congress for ending the war is a good first step toward a more effective strategy in Afghanistan, and a better plan for spending taxpayer dollars.
Published: December 5th, 2012
The U.S Senate approved a non-binding resolution calling for an accelerated transition to local security forces Afghanistan, withdrawing U.S combat forces earlier than the planned 2014 deadline. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan will require an “enduring presence” post-2014.
The Outpost: No Strategic Purpose for U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
The story of Combat Outpost Keating is perhaps one of the most tragic of the Afghanistan war. The U.S. camp was located in a remote area of Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, at the base of three mountains – a nearly indefensible position – defend the position, at great expense by U.S. forces, for over three years.
Majority in U.S. Senate Support Accelerated Afghanistan Transition Pace
Defense News by John Bennett
In a bipartisan vote of 62-33, the upper chamber approved what’s called a “sense of Congress” measure offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that formally stamps Senate approval on an “accelerated transition of United States combat and military and security operations to the government of Afghanistan,” according to a Senate summary of the provision.
Panetta: Post-2014 Afghan Effort To Be Substantial
The U.S. intends to wage a counterterrorism campaign inside Afghanistan even after the main U.S. combat force leaves in 2014 in order to prevent al-Qaida from fulfilling its ambition to re-establish a sanctuary there, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
New commander faces challenge of winding down Afghanistan war
Reuters by David Alexander
Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who takes over as head of international forces in Afghanistan next year, faces the challenge of winding down a war in a country where he has little experience using a strategy he did not devise.
Differing Afghan, U.S. priorities could sabotage proposed security agreement
Washington Post by Pamela Constable and Craig Whitlock
When the two sides meet again this month for more substantive discussions, each will begin to lay out a competing set of military concerns, political constraints and legal priorities that could severely test their fledgling postwar partnership, possibly to the point of failure.
How to fight in Afghanistan with fewer U.S. troops
Washington Post by David Barno and Matthew Irvine
Protecting these [vital national security] interests after 2014 will require the United States to be able to launch precision military strikes from this region. But it will not require tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Pace of Leaving Afghanistan
New York Times Editorial
[The drawdown] should start now and should not take more than a year. We strongly supported the war in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but after more than a decade of fighting and a cost upward of $500 billion it is time for a safe and orderly departure.
Published: November 28th, 2012
Pentagon officials say a recommendation on post-2014 troop levels is coming within weeks, although the specific number of troops is still undecided. The administration reportedly favors keeping 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some political pundits are calling for a heavy military footprint of 30,000, while other experts ask why the U.S. still has 66,000 combat troops in the country.
Al Qaeda Decimated, but US Considers Heavy Military Footprint in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Despite official U.S. assessments that al Qaeda leadership has been “decimated,” some experts are insisting that the U.S. maintain a heavy military footprint in Afghanistan — a strategy that will cost billions of dollars each year.
Pentagon: Discussion of troop numbers remaining in Afghanistan ‘premature’
Stars and Stripes by Chris Carroll
The Pentagon says it plans to tell the White House within weeks how many American troops military leaders believe will be needed in Afghanistan after 2014 to train local forces and continue to target al-Qaida.
Afghanistan Opium Fields Still Growing Despite Efforts
Wall Street Journal by Maria Abi-Habib
Land under opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 18% this year, despite a decade of efforts by the international community to get Afghan farmers to switch to legal, though less lucrative, crops, a survey released Tuesday said.
Audit Says Kabul Bank Began as ‘Ponzi Scheme’
New York Times by Matthew Rosenberg
Kabul Bank became Afghanistan’s largest financial institution by offering the promise of modern banking to people who had never had a saving or checking account. What it really dealt in was modern theft: “From its very beginning,” according to a confidential forensic audit of Kabul Bank, “the bank was a well-concealed Ponzi scheme.”
For Obama, could 10,000 troops in Afghanistan be too many?
Reuters by Phil Stewart
President Barack Obama publicly scoffed at the idea of keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq. So could he really be persuaded to keep that many in Afghanistan after the war formally ends in 2014?
How Long Will it Take to Leave Afghanistan?
New York Times Editorial Blog by Andrew Rosenthal
Why not just start now? If all it takes is a year, then the United States could plausibly be out of Afghanistan by this time next year…it would mean one less year of American casualties on the battlefield – and one less year spent trying to make the Afghan army into a real fighting force.