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US Inspector: Weak Data Hurting Afghan Reconstruction

  • Ayaz Gul

FILE - John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

FILE - John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A U.S. government oversight official has again expressed concern about the absence of accurate information about how many personnel are serving in Afghanistan’s army and police, warning it makes it difficult for Afghan military leaders and their American advisers to clearly determine the strength and capabilities of national security forces.

John Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, is digging out facts and identifying weaknesses, failures, uncertainties, corrupt acts and delusions connected to the more than $100 billion the United States has committed to rebuilding and developing Afghanistan.

In a speech Tuesday at Weill Cornell College of Medicine in New York, Sopko said that sorting “fact from fantasy” in Afghanistan can be a challenge.

“But just as doctors must be willing to face the truth about whether a treatment is working, we in the United States must be willing to face the truth, and acknowledge the uncertainties, about our programs and policies if we want reconstruction to succeed,” Sopko said in his opening remarks.

He cited examples of basic problems plaguing the record-keeping system for the Afghan army and police, saying neither Afghan nor U.S. officials have written procedures for verifying data accuracy.

“The Afghan reporting system relies heavily on paper records, manual entry, and hand delivery of reports. The Ministry of Defense data system requires manual keyboarding, isn't linked to other systems, and can't generate reports on individual soldiers' pay,” Sopko added.

Among other problems, he said the system creates opportunities for unit commanders to include “dead or deserted soldiers on the rolls to collect more cash.”

During recent testimony before a U.S. congressional committee, Sopko issued a similar warning.

“Unfortunately, neither the United States nor our Afghan allies truly know how many Afghan soldiers and police are available for duty, or by extension, the true nature of their operational capability," he told legislators. "Such basic information is especially critical now, as we enter the 2015 fighting season with the Afghans being fully responsible for their own security.”

In his speech Tuesday, Sopko went on to assert that the U.S. has committed to support “a nominally 352,000-strong” Afghan national defense security force through at least 2017 but “dubious numbers entail the risk that U.S. taxpayers could be paying large sums for security that will never be real.”

He concluded that with $15 billion currently awaiting disbursement, there is both need to improve the effectiveness of the reconstruction effort and time to make a difference in the outcome, warning it will be a long struggle.

"Defeating a determined insurgency, improving health and education, altering attitudes toward women, reducing corruption, and building governmental competence are not casual, short-term undertakings," he said.

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