WASHINGTON D.C.: As Afghanistan prepares to hand over power to a new president and US combat forces depart, the United States’ special inspector general for the war-torn country paints a bleak picture of its long-term prospects in a new report to Congress.
The report, of which McClatchy (MCT) obtained an embargoed copy before its Wednesday release, said corruption is so widespread in Afghanistan that it threatens the United States’ long-term reconstruction effort.
“Corruption in Afghanistan includes everything from petty bribery for routine services, nepotism and tribal preference to contract fraud, large-scale theft of resources and subversion of the justice system,” the report concludes.
John Sopko, US special investigator for Afghanistan reconstruction, criticized the Army for failing to do more to prevent American aid from ending up in the hands of Islamic jihadists fighting the Afghan government.
“The Army’s refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency from receiving government contracts because the information supporting these recommendations is classified is not only legally wrong, but contrary to sound policy and national security goals,” Sopko wrote Congress in a cover letter accompanying his report.
A separate internal report in February by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited by Sopko, said: “Corruption directly threatens the viability and legitimacy of the Afghan state.”
Experts inside and outside the Pentagon told MCT that the situation in Afghanistan is dismal, with rampant corruption fueled by a gusher of largely untracked reconstruction funds from the United States and other donor nations.
Larry Goodson, a professor of Middle East Studies at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said the US will likely have less influence in Afghanistan once a scheduled military withdrawal is completed by the end of this year, leaving in place as few as several thousand non-combat troops.
“Unfortunately, our interests are at odds with the realities of what we’re going to be able to do,” Goodson said.
“And we are hamstrung by the failures that we’ve had so far, especially trying to deal with the bad governance and the corruption,” he added.
Billions in aid invested
The United States has spent $103 billion to rebuild Afghan roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure since 2002, more than in any previous overseas reconstruction effort.
Almost $64 billion of the aid has come in the last four years, creating a deluge of money that the US government can’t track and which the fragile Afghan economy can’t absorb, the report said. As a result, it said large sums of aid are unaccounted for and major projects have not been finished or were done poorly.
“US implementing agencies have not always exercised sufficient oversight of their massive spending,” the report said.
“[Our] audits and inspections have cataloged lack of planning, contract mismanagement, poor quality control and weak accountability. Consequently, Afghanistan has schools built so badly they are in danger of collapsing, clinics with no doctors or medical supplies, police and army barracks that are not fit to use, and roads that are disintegrating for lack of maintenance,” it added.