America’s ‘Ultimate Failure’ in Afghanistan: Corruption by the Billions
Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A blistering new report blasts the U.S. government’s pouring of billions of dollars into projects in Afghanistan with inadequate oversight that in many cases fueled corruption on unprecedented levels and ultimately undermined America’s mission there.
The 164-page report, published online Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), is the first in the agency’s “Lessons Learned” series that takes a broader look at the U.S. government’s shortcomings in the 15 years since the 2001 invasion. SIGAR previously released report after report about the waste of millions of dollars in failed individual projects.
This report, titled Corruption in Conflict, said that early on the U.S. government did not “fully appreciate the potential for corruption to threaten the security and state-building mission in Afghanistan,” where some form of regular corruption had already existed for centuries.
“The U.S. government also failed to recognize that billions of dollars injected into a small, underdeveloped country, with limited oversight and strong pressures to spend, contributed to the growth of corruption,” the report says.
In its dogged pursuit of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the U.S. threw in its lot with local “warlords” and their militias — men who later rose to prominence in the Afghan government and used their positions to engage in “rampant corruption activities,” the report says.
In 2005, the U.S. began to realize the extent of corruption but did relatively little about it, the report says. The Afghan government made “halfhearted” attempts to respond.
By 2009, “U.S. civilian and military leaders became increasingly concerned that corruption was fueling the insurgency by financing insurgent groups and stoking grievances that increased popular support for these groups,” the report says. The U.S. shifted its focus to fighting corruption, but by then there were “entrenched criminal patronage networks” to contend with — and an incredible amount of money.
The report notes that in fiscal year 2012, the U.S. military contract obligations for services in Afghanistan, “including transportation, construction, base support, translation/interpretation” among other things, was approximately $19 billion. That year, Afghanistan’s entire gross domestic product was estimated to be $20.5 billion.
The U.S. did launch projects and organize joint teams to combat corruption in Afghanistan but not as aggressively as SIGAR believes it should have.
“What we do know is, the Taliban continue to pose a security threat, corruption remains a source of profound frustration among the population, and the National Unity Government has struggled to make headway against corruption,” SIGAR says.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker is quoted in the report as saying, “The ultimate failure of our efforts… wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption.”
The head of SIGAR, John Sopko, said Wednesday that the report is not meant to be a “critique or criticism of the many brave men and women who worked in Afghanistan over the last 15 years,” but a “learning experience, drawing together evidence and analysis into findings that underpin key lessons.”
The major lesson, according to Sopko, is that corruption cannot and should not be ignored or de-prioritized, as it could undermine everything else America has worked for.
“Corruption, in other words, is a corrosive acid — partly of our making — that eats away the base of every pillar of Afghan reconstruction, including security and political stability,” Sopko said at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, according to prepared remarks.
A representative for the government of Afghanistan did not immediately return requests for comment for this report.
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