Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko is an investigator charged with auditing and reporting to Congress on US government spending in Afghanistan in an effort to prevent waste and fraud. On Tuesday, he discussed his latest findings with reporters and painted a pessimistic picture of how funds have been used to date. According to Military Times, Sopko said that recent efforts to boost the Afghan economy, which have already cost American taxpayers upwards of $700 million, “accomplished nothing.” He also called the overall reconstruction effort, on which the US has already spent $120 billion, an “abysmal failure.”
“This is the most money we have spent on reconstruction of a single country in the history of our republic. Shouldn’t it have been better?” said Sopko.
He blamed the failure on a lack of leadership and described the reconstruction effort as a disorganized free-for-all. Stars and Stripes quoted Sopko as saying, “It seems like no one is responsible for anything in Afghanistan except to get the money out… When you go to Afghanistan and you talk to the people in the US Embassy, I don’t see anybody in charge on developing the economy… There are people who work on it… but there is nobody who is tasked with saying, ‘Your job is to work with the Afghans and make certain they get a viable economy. And if you don’t succeed, you will be held accountable.'”
Examples of the failures include a $34 million US-built base that will likely have to be demolished due to a variety of planning errors including the installation of power outlets that run on the US voltage standard, which is incompatible with power utilities in Afghanistan, and a mishap in which the Department of Defense spent over $400 million building 16 airplanes for the Afghan government only to sell them for scrap to a local contractor in Afghanistan for $32,000 without putting them to their intended use.
Sopko also announced that his office is launching a formal investigation into the DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which is charged with promoting industrial development in Afghanistan and has been accused of mismanagement. He indicated that questions have been raised as to “whether [the task force] should have existed.”
“I have not found anybody who’s lost a job for screwing up — and there have been a lot of screw-ups in Afghanistan,” said Sopko about the overall lack of accountability in the US effort to rebuild Afghanistan.
John Sopko also pointed out the fact that the Afghan government, which receives 90% of its funding from outside sources like the US, does not have the ability to maintain the infrastructure that the US is providing for it. He said, “When you go into a country like Afghanistan, you should to take into account what the government and the economy is faced with, and you should take into account — unless you want to create a client state for X number of years — how do you develop a sustainable economy? And we have not seen that.”
He suggested that US-led efforts to boost Afghanistan’s economy and strengthen its government can only work if taxpayers continue funding it on an ongoing basis. Said Sopko, “they can’t afford the government we’ve given them, and if our intended goal was a government that would keep or kick the terrorists out, we’re going to have to fund it.”