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: December 27th, 2012
New reports released last week raise further questions about the costs of the Afghanistan war. An U.S. government watchdog audit finds that $13 million worth of electrical equipment “to meet urgent needs in support of the counterinsurgency strategy is sitting unused in storage…without a clear plan for installation.” A report by the Government Accountability Office questions the Pentagon’s plan to spend $5.7 billion transporting equipment from Afghanistan.
Wasteful War Strategy Persists
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
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.
Millions in DOD-funded electric equipment for Afghanistan collecting dust
Foreign Policy’s E-Ring by Kevin Baron
The United states hires a private contractor to complete a major infrastructure reconstruction project in a war zone, yet when the equipment goes unused and the project unfinished, the contractor is paid millions – in full – anyway.
Bringing it all back home
Delaware Online by Bill McMichael
More than $36 billion worth of U.S. equipment has accumulated during the past decade in Afghanistan. With the administration currently planning to withdraw all combat troops by December 2014 and turn Afghanistan’s security completely over to its own forces, decisions have to be made. Does the U.S. bring the gear back, give it away or destroy it in place?
No guarantee of troops in Afghanistan past 2014
Navy Times by Andrew Tilghman
A third option – a complete withdrawal leaving no troops – is also a potential outcome, as U.S. decision-makers consider legal protections for American forces, domestic budget pressures and mounting threats elsewhere, some experts say.
Nearly half of UK forces to leave Afghanistan in 2013
Reuters by Peter Griffiths and Matt Falloon
Britain will withdraw nearly half its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, the government said on Wednesday, as part of a security handover to Afghan forces more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.
US uniforms, like those used in attacks on bases, still found in Kabul shops
Stars and Stripes by Heath Druzin
When a shopkeeper at a Kabul market was asked if he had any U.S. military uniforms for sale, he answered, “Which unit?”
No end in sight for Afghanistan war
World News Australia by Ian Bickerton
The main purpose of the attack on the Taliban and Afghanistan was to destroy the al-Qaeda network responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the US. Eleven years later it is still not clear how successful this war has been.
Published: December 13th, 2012
Two U.S. government reports released this week paint a grim picture of security and anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan. An investigation by the U.S. agency that oversees Afghanistan reconstruction found that Afghan officials are resisting efforts to track the billions of dollars in cash flown out of Afghanistan each year. Meanwhile, a Pentagon report determined that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades can operate without assistance from U.S. and allied troops. Congress has allocated over $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan since 2001.
Growing Momentum for Ending the War in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
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.
Despite U.S. aid, little progress in monitoring Kabul airport cash flow
Reuters by Susan Cornwell
Afghan officials are stonewalling U.S. efforts to help regulate the billions of dollars in cash being flown out of Kabul airport every year, a U.S. watchdog said in a report on Tuesday.
Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance
New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller
As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, 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.
Taliban Popular Where U.S. Fought Biggest Battle
AP by Kathy Gannon
Nearly three years after U.S.-led forces launched the biggest operation of the war to clear insurgents, foster economic growth and set a model for the rest of Afghanistan, angry residents of Helmand province say they are too afraid to go out after dark because of marauding bands of thieves.
Panetta Visits Afghanistan to Discuss Troop Levels
New York Times by Thom Shanker
The president has made no decision, and a range of options are being prepared, officials said. The American counterterrorism force might number fewer than 1,000, part of an American military mission that would probably total no more than 10,000 troops, despite the desire of some officers for a larger force.
How Pentagon Employees Are Picking America’s Pocket – In Afghanistan
Politico’s The Arena by Michael Shank
We cannot forget, amid fiscal cliff fecklessness, that as taxpayers of this debt-funded fight we are sending nearly $10 billion every month to Afghanistan for the war (aka deconstruction) and post-war reconstruction efforts. Last year alone, American taxpayers accumulated well over $113.9 billion worth of debt so that this war could continue.
In Afghanistan, fewer resources can be better
Washington Post Letter to the Editor by Adam Cohen
That the United States has neither the interest nor the funds for a large-footprint approach to diplomacy and development in Afghanistan need not be cause for alarm. Fewer resources do not necessarily spell disaster, and they might make such outreach more effective.
Published: November 9th, 2012
The U.S. elections came and went with little mention of the war in Afghanistan. The status quo is unchanged. Violence and instability continue, as do questions about the capability of the Afghan security forces. 68,000 U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan; thousands of trainers and special operations forces may remain after 2014. And war costs, which exceeded $580 billion, continue to add up.
Afghanistan War More Expensive Than The Top Ten Costliest Storms
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
The economic damage cause by Sandy is estimated at $30 billion to $50 billion, a staggering amount on its own, but tiny compared to the amounts the U.S. has spent on the war in Afghanistan.
As NATO Nears Exit, Construction Dries Up
New York Times by Rod Norland and Sangar Rahimi
Jalalabad Road, the heart of what might be called the Afghan capital’s military-industrial complex, has also become the place where heavy construction equipment comes to die.
War-weary Afghans shrug off Obama re-election
AFP by Lawrence Bartlett
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday congratulated US President Barack Obama on his re-election, but many in the war-weary nation shrugged off the news as foreign forces prepare to withdraw.
Afghanistan’s Karzai back to antagonizing the US and attacking free speech
Christian Science Monitor by Dan Murphy
The so-called “fighting season” is over and an Afghan leader’s fancy can turn to antagonizing his American patrons for amusement over the cold winter months.
The Permanent Militarization of America
New York Times by Aaron B. O’Connell
Were Eisenhower alive, he’d be aghast at our debt, deficits and still expanding military-industrial complex.
Published: October 30th, 2012
After eleven years, more than $570 billion, and no end in sight, it seems clear that the U.S. needs a new strategy for Afghanistan. But some are still arguing that we are winning the war in Afghanistan, and that all we need to achieve our goals is stay the course.
Of course, from one perspective, the U.S. has already won in Afghanistan. The original goal was to disrupt and dismantle the al Qaeda network. The U.S. achieve this goal relatively quickly. In 2010, then CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that the number of al Qaeda in Afghanistan totaled “maybe 50 to 100, maybe less.”
Since 2010, the U.S. has spent over $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan. In 2012 the war cost $110 billion. That’s about $2 billion per week, or over $1 billion for each member of al Qaeda that may still be in Afghanistan.
We stayed in Afghanistan long after our original goals had been accomplished. The mission changed.
We went to Afghanistan to protect U.S. national security. We stayed to nation-build.
The nation-building plan was deeply flawed. Its architects lacked a basic understanding of the region’s historical and cultural background, the key actors and dynamics at play. The idea that the counterinsurgency campaign could root out the Taliban, establish an effective central government and competent security forces, and stabilize the economy was overly ambitious.
Tactically, the U.S. plan also missed the mark. The cornerstone of the U.S. plan for Afghanistan is the Afghan national security forces, who will take the lead in the counterinsurgency after coalition forces withdraw. Military planners focused on the rapid expansion of the force. Today, the Afghan army and police have almost achieved their target number — but their capabilities remain in serious doubt.
The “quantity over quality” strategy left Afghans with a massive, but corrupt and incompetent security force. It also cost U.S. taxpayers over $50 billion.
When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the question isn’t whether we are winning. The question is what we’re trying to achieve, and whether the goal is worth the costs.
Maybe the nation-building experiment in Afghanistan will succeed, but only at an unacceptable price. The U.S. cannot afford to spend another eleven years and another $570 billion.
With a national debt of over $16 trillion, spending billions on the war in Afghanistan doesn’t make sense. It’s time to bring that money home and build the U.S. economy, rather than nation-building halfway around the world.
Published: October 12th, 2012
For the 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan today, the war is far from over. Yesterday the government watchdog that oversees reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan alerted U.S. commanders of “potentially significant contract fraud” in the installation of systems to prevent insurgent attacks. This week also saw the 11 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. With war costs at $570 billion and counting, some are questioning official statements of progress.
War Costs: $570 Billion and Counting
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
After eleven years and $570 billion, Americans are ready to move on from the war in Afghanistan. But will policymakers finally make the smart choice? Or will they quietly continue to write blank checks for the war?
SIGAR: U.S. Troops In Afghanistan At Greater Risk Of IED Attacks Due To Contractor Fraud
The Huffington Post by Amanda Terkel
U.S. troops in Afghanistan are facing a greater threat from roadside bombs due to shoddy and incomplete work on a major highway by contractors, according to the official responsible for providing independent oversight of the reconstruction effort there.
How the U.S. Quietly Lost the IED War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service by Gareth Porter
Although the surge of “insider attacks” on U.S.-NATO forces has dominated coverage of the war in Afghanistan in 2012, an even more important story has been quietly unfolding: the U.S. loss of the pivotal war of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to the Taliban.
Kabul Prepares for U.S. Talks
The Wall Street Journal by Yaroslav Trofimov and Nathan Hodge
Afghanistan’s demands to curtail immunity for U.S. forces will be a main stumbling block in negotiations over the long-term American military presence here, Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta said, highlighting the issue that derailed similar U.S. talks with Iraq a year ago.
The Afghan war: Do the numbers add up to success?
McClatchy Newspapers by Matthew Schofield
for all the American blood and treasure invested in the war, some experts who’ve studied it contend that the problem with the military’s claims of success is that the numbers don’t add up. Using them alone, the Taliban is overmatched, and attacks since the surge are down. Yet, they have become more brazen.
No Light at End of Afghan Tunnel
The Wall Street Journal, Letter to the Editor by J.M. Simpson
There is no clear path to America achieving its security objectives. It is time to end the wishful thinking about the so-called efficacy of the Afghans and bring our service members home.
Published: July 31st, 2012
Last fall the Wall Street Journal broke the story of abuses and corruption at Afghanistan’s military hospital. “Injured soldiers were routinely dying of simple infections and even starving to death as some corrupt doctors and nurses demanded bribes for food and the most basic of care,” the story read.
If the systemic abuse at the hospital weren’t bad enough, a U.S. official may have prevented an investigation into the hospital, according to witnesses at a congressional hearing last week.
“The evidence is clear to me that General Caldwell had the request [for an investigation] withdrawn and postponed until after the election,” retired Colonel Gerald Carozza testified at the hearing. “Then, after the election, [Gen. Caldwell] tried to intimidate his subordinates into a consensus that it need not move forward at all.”
Not only were U.S. officials possibly complicit in the cover-up, the hospital was partly funded by U.S.aid dollars—meaning, U.S. taxpayers have been bankrolling the hospital that witnesses describe as ‘Auschwitz-like’.
Exactly how much the U.S. has spent on the hospital and related medical programs is unclear. The widely-cited figure is $185 million in 9 years, but retired Colonel Schuyler Geller, former Command Surgeon for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan places the figure much higher.
“My team discovered early on that no reliable accounting of dollars spent existed prior to 2007, but we had been mentoring medics since 2003 and the Daoud Khan Hospital since 2005,” Col. Geller testified. “Considerably more than $185 million has been utilized in the development of the Afghan Army health system by many donor nations. The U.S. had spent $153 million just on medical supplies and medicine from 2007-2010 with over $42 million in pharmaceuticals delivered in 2010 alone.”
Col. Geller’s testimony goes on to detail other U.S. aid streams routinely diverted to criminal private networks.
The case of the Afghan hospital is particularly disturbing because the consequences are clear and painful. This is just one example of the corruption in aid to Afghanistan. If $185 million missed the mark, what about the rest of the more than $30 billion in humanitarian and development aid that the U.S. has sent to Afghanistan over the past ten years?
A former senior auditor for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that only 15 percent of Afghan aid makes it to the intended recipient. The rest—85 percent, or $25 billion—is lost to waste, corruption, and overhead costs.
While billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars fund criminal networks in Afghanistan, hospitals here in the U.S. are hurting. In Louisiana, for example, a $329 million budget shortfall is forcing the public hospital system to cut patient services. Hospitals expect a reduction of 79,000 outpatient visits and 12,400 fewer days of in-hospital care.
Published: July 26th, 2012
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to spend $88.5 billion on the Afghanistan war next year, shooting down efforts to cut back on war costs. This week, in a show of oversight, Congress held two hearings on Afghanistan. The testimony offered at the hearings was sobering. In the first, experts spoke on allegations that U.S. military commanders tried “to put a better face on the Afghan war” by covering up abuses at an Afghan hospital. At the second hearing, witnesses argued that despite over ten years and $50 billion, U.S. efforts to train the Afghan security forces are faltering. Moreover, in an effort to cover up the lack of success, the Pentagon lowered the standards used to measure Afghan forces’ progress.
Afghan withdrawal not even close to halfway done
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
If you read only the news headlines, you missed the big Afghanistan story this week. The Associated Press headline reads: “US Afghan withdrawal halfway done.” The first paragraph clarifies that withdrawal planned for this summer is halfway done. That means that 23,000 U.S. troops will be home by fall. 68,000 will remain in Afghanistan.
As Afghan Security Forces Training Flounders, Pentagon Alters Progress Levels, Hearing Testimony Shows
Huffington Post by Greg Rosalsky
After more than a decade and nearly $50 billion spent on building the Afghan National Security Forces, the Pentagon is still struggling to adequately train them and has lowered the standards used to assess their progress, security experts told Congress Tuesday.
U.S. Builds Afghan Air Base, but Where Are the Planes?
Wall Street Journal by Nathan Hodge
The budding Afghan air force was supposed to receive $355 million worth of planes custom-made for fighting guerrillas well ahead of the U.S. withdrawal in 2014. Equipped with machine guns, missiles and bombs, those reliable, rugged turboprop aircraft are cheaper to operate and easier to maintain than fighter jets.
The Afghans won’t get the planes on time.
Afghan war: Did US commanders cover up ‘horrific’ conditions at hospital?
CS Monitor by Anne Mulrine
Are Americans getting a clear picture of just how war in Afghanistan is going? In bracing testimony before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee this week, top US military officials warned that they are not.
All quiet on the war front
LA Times by Doyle McManus
Here’s an important fact you haven’t heard much about in the presidential campaign: The armed forces of the United States are at war in at least four countries, and that number could increase any day.
Published: October 14th, 2011
Author: Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Earlier this year we reported on the case of Afghan National Police Commander Azizullah, a protégé of US Special Ops Forces and human rights offender, according to an internal UN report.
The reports detailed several instances of police brutality involving Azizullah, and questioned the reasoning for keeping him on the US payroll. NATO officials conducted an internal investigation and brushed off the allegations, so TIME’s Julius Cavendish looked into the case, conducting interviews with local sources to find out how the stories match up. The results of the investigation are disturbing.
Cavendish relays incidents of violence and abuse, including a rape, theft and the desecration of a mosque by Azizullah and his men, some 400 Afghan national security guards. What locals had to say matched up with the cases documented in an assessment by a reconstruction firm as well as the original UN report.
Abuse of power is all too common in Afghanistan, according to a recent study by the, and not enough is being done by the US and NATO allies to prevent it. It is even more unacceptable that these abuses are bankrolled by US taxpayers.
Continued support for Azizullah despite the evidence is further proof of short-sighted US policy in Afghanistan. Our leaders – both political and military – emphasize that the goal is to deny a safe haven to terrorists. In trying to accomplish that, we’ve empowered men like Azizullah, who have established a measure of stability, at the expense of human rights. We get a more-or-less reliable ally, and the Afghanis get a warlord in a police uniform.
This year we spent $11.6 billion training and equipping the Afghan National Army and Police. Some of that money went to Azizullah and others like him ( and there most certainly are others like him). The Afghan people deserve better than this, and so do we.
Published: August 11th, 2011
Yesterday Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post reported the resignation of Herb Richardson, the acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan is in charge of “ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse in reconstruction projects”. This is the second individual to hold this post in a year. Those difficulties aside, a little nugget was buried in this article, that may have been missed by most. A democratic aid is quoted as saying “When we’re spending $325 million per day in Afghanistan, now is hardly the time to loosen the strings of accountability tied to each hard-earned American taxpayer dollar. …” That’s right $325 million per day in Afghanistan.
“Extraordinary Sacrifices”: We don’t need to lose any more of our precious resources in Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Study Group by Matthew Hoh and Clarissa Griebel
For almost ten years the United States has been in Afghanistan. On Saturday, our forces there suffered the single largest loss of life in one day. Just a few weeks after the President’s announcement that a withdrawal of 30,000 troops would begin this year, 30 American troops were lost when Taliban forces shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. In addition, to U.S. casualties, which included Navy Seal Commandos, one civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were also killed in the attack. What are we still doing in Afghanistan?
Lawmakers question CERP funds in Afghanistan
Army Times by Michelle Stein
As Congress hammers out new spending cuts, a special emergency fund for commanders in Afghanistan has remained largely out of the limelight. But Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and others have continually pressed for more oversight and accountability.
World fails Afghanistan despite spending billions
Reuters by Michelle Nichols
The global community has failed to create a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan despite pouring billions of dollars into the South Asian nation during a decade-long war against the Taliban, says the International Crisis Group. The Brussels-based think tank said the United States and its allies still lacked a coherent policy to strengthen Afghanistan ahead of a planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops from the unpopular war by the end of 2014.
Copter Crash Highlights Fight In Eastern Afghanistan
NPR by NPR Staff and Wires
A U.S. military helicopter crashed early Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, killing 30 Americans in the deadliest incident for U.S. troops since the war began. Seven Afghan commandos were also killed. Sources told NPR the Taliban shot down the helicopter as it was on a special overnight mission targeting an insurgent compound in Wardak province.
Close to Kabul: Chinook Tragedy in the Tangi Valley
The Atlantic by Steve Clemons
30 Americans of whom 22 were Navy Seals as well as 7 Afghan troops and a translator were killed yesterday when Taliban fighters successfully downed a Chinook helicopter with a rocket launched grenade in the Tangi Valley of Wardak Province in Afghanistan.
A New Tragedy and Old Issues in Afghanistan
The National Interest by Paul Pillar
The tragic loss of 30 U.S. service members and eight Afghans in the crash, apparently from enemy fire, of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan over the weekend elicits—as does any other prominent and deadly incident—attempts to draw larger lessons. The drawing is done from different angles, sometimes with an agenda attached. The Taliban, playing off the inclusion of Navy SEALs among the victims, will portray the shoot-down as a calculated reprisal for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, rather than as a lucky shot by an insurgent armed with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Why Are Good Men Still Dying in Afghanistan?
The Good Men Project by Tom Matlack
I had just finished the harrowing account of just how we got Bin Laden in the New Yorker– including a Navy Seal who tackled two people he had reason to believe had suicide bomb vests on to save the rest of his team–when I got the first report of our largest single day death toll in the wars that have dragged for near a decade now. The New York Times reports:
Why the Surge in Afghanistan has failed
Afghanistan Headlines Examiner by Michael Hughes
A number of prominent security experts have concluded that President Barack Obama’s troop surge has not only fallen far short of its objectives, but has left Afghanistan in a more violent, corrupt and dependent state.