Published: January 22nd, 2013
The U.S. has provided some 30,000 vehicles to the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since the ANP cannot afford maintenance costs, and likely will not be able to do so for several years, the U.S. has been picking up the tab. But we may not be getting what we think we’re paying for.
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.
The problem, the report concludes, was that the U.S. command that awarded the contract did not adjust the terms to reflect the number of police vehicles requiring maintenance.
$6.8 million is small fraction of the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan. Since 2002, Congress has allocated over $50 billion to train and equip the Afghan security forces.
Still, $6.8 million is not an insignificant amount, especially when the U.S. is looking for ways to cut back on unnecessary spending. Across the country budget cuts are hitting local police forces hard. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to spend billions on Afghanistan aid projects — $28 million per day, according to the Inspector General.
Some policymakers are starting to call for more transparency and oversight in Afghanistan aid. And we are making some progress. For example, the U.S. agency that oversaw this particular boondoggle has already made changes, updating its tracking system and removing over 7,000 vehicles that should not have been on the maintenance list. The Inspector General estimates that this improvement will save U.S. taxpayers $5.5 million per year.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Eliminating a few unnecessary and unsustainable programs will yield some savings, but the problems will continue until the U.S. develops a new strategy for Afghanistan that links long-term strategic goals with smart budget choices.
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: 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: March 21st, 2012
Afghanistan Study Group
To a war-weary American public, the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier is another sign that the Afghanistan War needs to end. Whether policymakers agree is another story. The latest reports say that President Obama, some members of Congress, and U.S. allies are determined to stick to the current drawdown plan. That plan, developed at the 2010 Lisbon conference, is for Afghan forces to take on the primary combat role by 2014.
Even as the number of U.S. troops decreases, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is still considerable and thus the costs of sustaining that presence.
As U.S. troops come home the remaining war duties will shift to contractors. As of January 2012, there are over 25,000 U.S. defense contractors in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. Exactly how much these contractors cost U.S. taxpayers is unknown, but we do know that DOD contractors’ salaries are second to none: on average, Pentagon contractors make $10,000 per year more than DOD civilians, and $36,000 more than the average non-federal employee.
When it comes to wartime contracting, the numbers are even more damning. The Commission on Wartime Contracting found that of the $206 billion the U.S. spent on contracts since 2002. As much as $60 billion of that total was lost to waste and fraud. That averages out to about $12 million per week over the last ten years.
Some members of Congress are trying to implement increased oversight of wartime contracting, as the Commission recommends. But it’s an uphill battle against congressional inertia and Pentagon incompetence (this is, after all, the agency that still cannot pass a financial audit).
Despite dwindling public support, the war in Afghanistan continues. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are wasted at a time when Congress is considering cuts to other vital programs. Another $12,000,000 per week for Afghanistan contracting is fiscally irresponsible. Let’s keep that money at home.
Published: September 8th, 2011
Author: Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Waste and inefficiency in defense contracts has resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the recently released final report of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. The report, which highlights the need to improve oversight and transparency, caused contingency contracting to move up the list of targets as a target for cost-saving reforms. But while all eyes are on wartime contracting, we may be losing sight of the bigger picture – the total cost.
The bipartisan commission has published several special reports since its establishment in 2008, so its conclusion was not unexpected. Still, the numbers are staggering: at least $31 billion, and as much as $60 billion, spent on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan has been lost to waste and fraud.
With contracting costs running over $200 billion since FY 2002, this means a loss of one out of every six dollars. It means a loss of $12 million per day over the past ten years.
It’s bad enough to think that billions of dollars could just disappear. But with war funds, the stakes are even higher. As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted in a July report, money “lost” in Iraq and Afghanistan may be finding its way into the hands of insurgents.
As efforts continue to find savings in the defense budget, reports of waste and inefficiencies is big news on the Hill. One congressman is already preparing legislation to create a permanent inspector general to oversee contingency operations. Citing the contracting report as evidence of the need to improve oversight and transparency, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) said in a press release, “The kind of waste we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be repeated.”
Rep. Tierney’s call for greater scrutiny of wartime contracting is a step in the right direction. By focusing exclusively on overhauling the contracting system, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger goal, fiscal responsibility, in all areas of government, including defense.
$60 billion is a lot of money. And it’s only a fraction of the amount we’ve invested in Iraq and Afghanistan (over $2.3 trillion, according to a recent study that takes indirect costs such as veterans care into account).
The war in Afghanistan is far from over. This is true on the ground – ASG blogger Edward Kenney writes from Kabul that “If “freedom of movement” is a good metric to determine success of the counter insurgency, we are the ones who are losing.” It’s true by the numbers – according to the contracting report, there are currently about 99,300 US troops in Afghanistan, plus an additional 90,339 contractors. And it’s certainly true in terms of sacrifice – how could we forget that August was the deadliest month yet for US troops in Afghanistan?
If we’re serious about cutting government spending, then making contracting dollars more efficient is a good first step. But we should really be looking at the trillion-dollar war as a whole. Targeting “waste, fraud, and abuse” in areas like contingency contracting is a good start. Making real inroads into reducing the deficit will require more: it will require a definitive, rapid drawdown in Afghanistan.
Published: May 20th, 2011
Author: Will Keola Thomas
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
On May 1st, the New York Times published an article describing the construction of a 64-mile-long highway through two of the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan. The story, “Costly Afghanistan Road Project Is Marred by Unsavory Alliances,” had almost no chance to register in the national consciousness before it was lost in the news cycle wake of Osama bin Laden’s death the following day. But the tale it told, one of organized crime, political violence, corruption, and waste, all underwritten by the American taxpayer, reveals much more about the war in Afghanistan as it is fought today than anything that will be found in bin Laden’s diary.
The Gardez-Khost Highway was presented as a counterinsurgency panacea. Construction of a paved road across the Paktia and Khost provinces of southeastern Afghanistan would facilitate the movement of U.S. forces in a mountainous region that had long been a key supply route for insurgents bringing weapons and fighters over the border from Pakistan. Planners believed the highway would strengthen the central government’s links with the border region and encourage commerce that would promote local buy-in, increase government legitimacy, and improve stability as markets flourished. All for the (low?) price of $69 million dollars.
But things didn’t work out that way.
First, the law of contracting entropy kicked in. Americans paid their taxes and financed the project. On behalf of those taxpayers, the U.S. Agency for International Development drew up the proposal and then gave the contract to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey consulting and construction services firm, and Black & Veatch a construction company based in Kansas.
(Sidenote: In November, the Louis Berger Group was ordered to pay $69 million in fines for overbillling the federal government. This is one of the highest wartime contracting fraud penalties in history. Yet the Group’s grip on the federal teat remains firm. Louis Berger currently oversees $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.)
The Berger Group and Black and Veatch then hired Indian construction subcontractors and a South African private security firm who, in turn, hired a variety of Afghan subcontractors for security and construction services, who hired still more subcontractors…and so on, and so forth…until, according to a civilian interviewed by the NY Times who worked with the U.S. military on the project, “…we had a problem that with the final subcontractors, they didn’t have enough money to get the work done.”
Four years later the highway still isn’t complete. The final bill for the project is expected to come in at $176 million with cost overruns of more than 100%. The NY Times reports that a section of the road finished six months ago is already falling apart.
Unfortunately, the story gets worse.
It has cost $43.5 million so far to provide security for the construction of the highway that was meant to bring stability to the region. Among those receiving funds for protecting the road project was one Mr. Arafat, a local strongman who was paid at least $1 million a year for his security services. But, as the NY Times reports:
“Some American officials and contractors involved in the project suspect that at least some of the money funneled through Mr. Arafat made its way to the Haqqani group, a particularly brutal offshoot of the Taliban.”
And if you think that Khost and Paktia are the only provinces where this is happening there’s a bank in Kabul I’d like to sell you:
“Critics say that payoffs to insurgent groups, either directly or indirectly, by contractors working on highways and other large projects in Afghanistan are routine. Some officials say they are widely accepted in the field as a cost of doing business…As a result, contracting companies and the American officials who supervise them often look the other way.
‘Does it keep the peace?’ asked one United States military officer with experience in volatile eastern Afghanistan. ‘Definitely. If the bad guys have a stake in the project, attacks go way down.’”
If the United States is putting soldiers in harm’s way to defeat the Taliban while at the same time filling the Taliban’s coffers with protection money it more than begs the question of what we are doing in “volatile eastern Afghanistan” in the first place.
Especially when one considers the extraordinary price paid in blood and treasure to implement infrastructure projects in areas where, according to a former U.S.A.I.D. worker interviewed by the Times, “…the local population is as likely to sabotage a project as to protect it.”
And particularly when one ponders the desperate need for infrastructure investment in the United States.
Hundreds of miles of paved roads are being removed and returned to gravel in states where officials can’t find the money to maintain them. As the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune reports:
“The paved roads that finally brought rural America in to the 20th century are starting to disappear across the Midwest in the 21st. Local officials, facing rising pavement prices, shrinking budgets and fewer residents, are making tough decisions to regress. In some places, they have even eliminated small stretches of gravel road altogether.”
And then there’s the crumbling bridges and levees across the country whose decrepit state puts thousands of lives at risk. Increasingly, building highways at the point of a gun in Afghanistan means playing budget roulette at home.
(Update: The BBC reports that the Taliban ambushed construction workers camped by the Gardez-Khost Highway on Wednesday night. At least 35 workers were killed making this the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan since February. According to the New York Times, “there have been 364 attacks on the Gardez-Khost Highway, including 108 roadside bombs, resulting in the deaths of 19 people, almost all of them local Afghan workers.”)
Published: October 27th, 2010
Author: Ed Kenney
Iran in Afghanistan
Today’s New York Times has a front page story on Iran’s increasingly cozy relationship with the Karzai government. The U.S. should not be surprised that Iran is trying to influence the Afghan government with financial support. Iran has a 582 mile border with Afghanistan, close to a million Afghan refugees living within its borders, sees an enormous percentage of the Afghan drug trade traffic through its land, and population and is traditionally protective of the minority Shia Hazara population. In a press conference, Karzai pointed out that U.S. contributions dwarf those given by Iran or other nations. Furthermore, there is no indication that Karzai ever pledged to refuse Iranian aid. This news development, however, does indicate troubling continual erosion in the relationship between Karzai and the U.S. If Karzai actually believes his regime could survive “without the West’s help”, he might be tempted to exclude the U.S. in peace negotiations. This potential development should greatly concern policymakers.
Afghanistan Study Group Member Juan Cole has an interesting take on the Iran story arguing that the scandal demonstrates that Iran and the U.S are “de facto Allies in Afghanistan”. He goes on to say that the Iranians have a long history of animosity towards the Taliban:
“The Iranians hate the Taliban and it is mutual. The two almost went to war in with one another in 1998 over the killing of Iranian diplomats at Mazar. Iran backed the Northern Alliance in its dark days when al Qaeda had it bottled up in the North East and Karzai is still backed by Northern Alliance War Lords”.
Karzai’s heated rhetoric may simply reflect political posturing related to a ban on private security contractors. These security firms have gotten a lot of negative attention due to the killing of civilians. However, they also play an important role in providing security for development projects all over Afghanistan. Simply put, without security contractors, much of the U.S. supported construction and development cannot take place. Karzai may try to extract U.S. concessions before agreeing to postpone the ban.
Afghanistan Study Group Member Bernard Finel thinks the benefits of security contractors are overblown. In demanding a ban on security personnel, Karzai is demonstrating leadership “for the first time in a decade,” writes Finel; furthermore development projects are “long-run and minor”, essentially a “trivial” issue in comparison to more important questions surrounding Afghan legitimacy. By demanding that the U.S. remove contractors, Karzai is reclaiming sovereignty. Finel concludes that a successful COIN strategy cannot be dependent on mercenary forces:
“A development-centric COIN approach supported with 500,000 well-trained American troops is one thing. A development-centric COIN approach sustained by a hodge-podge of bribes, private militias, and mercenaries is quite another.”
Is the War Going Well?
There is a real disconnect between the press releases from the Pentagon and those coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. General Petraeus is promoting recent military successes in the Kandahar offensive. Thanks to increased operations by both U.S. special operations and Afghan allies, vast stretches of the province have seen increased security, but is the tide really turning? The same day the Washington Post published Petreaus’s remarks, the paper also published a story on Af-Pak relations casting doubt on the general’s statements:
“In interviews, [Pakistani] military and intelligence officers said they were skeptical of assertion by U.S. military leaders that coalition forces have turned the corner…calling that narrative a ‘desperate ’attempt to convince the American public that there is progress in the war”
Taliban officials similarly say that the “peace talks” are mostly hype. As Michael Semple from the Carr center suggests, the presence of backchannels with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network have been used to communicate with the enemy for years and are standard operating procedures for Afghanistan.
So the question remains: Whose version of the war should we believe? Harvard professor and Afghanistan Study Group Member Stephen Walt does an excellent job explaining why we should be skeptical of Pentagon press releases. Firstly, he argues that it is in U.S. interests to play up positive developments in the war in order to encourage insurgents to defect. In other words these reports could be a psychological operation aimed at the insurgency. Secondly, even if the gains in Kandahar are real, the Taliban can still regroup in their Pakistani sanctuary (with Pakistani support). There is very little evidence to suggest that the current gains are permanent, but there is ample historical precedent to suggest that the recent gains are only temporary.
“The Taliban Will Never Negotiate as Long as They Think They are Winning”
Robert Naiman questions a piece of conventional wisdom on potential negotiations with the Taliban. The conventional wisdom says that the Taliban will never compromise as long as they have the upper hand in the conflict. Naiman points out that in any conflict, one side almost always seems to have the upper hand. This view seems to preclude negotiated settlements from ever successfully ending conflicts—a view contradicted by numerous historical examples. The real problem, suggests Naiman, is not that that the Taliban refuses to negotiate in the current environment, but rather that while they are winning, the Taliban makes harsh demands such as the removal of all U.S. troops. In other words, a more accurate statement would read “the U.S. will never negotiate as long as they are losing the war.”
One caveat should be added to Naiman’s persuasive argument. In order for meaningful negotiations to take place, both sides must recognize that military victory is not imminent. If the U.S. believes they are on the cusp of breaking the insurgency’s back, there is no incentive for the U.S. to negotiate. Likewise, if the Taliban feel they can hold out for two months, then march on Kabul, they will not enter negotiations in good faith. Simply put, if both sides believe that the costs of continuing the war, outweigh the benefits of continued fighting, there will be an incentive to negotiate regardless of which side has the upper hand. In Afghanistan, after over three decade of war, including nine years of US involvement, neither side has a clear path to victory. That is ample incentive for both sides to sit down and talk.