News / Asia

US Watchdog Slams Afghanistan Aid Waste

FILE - Inspector General John Sopko.
FILE - Inspector General John Sopko.
Sharon Behn
— A U.S. audit of billions of dollars it provided to rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan shows many projects are plagued by poor planning, inadequate inspections, and a lack of accountability.

Since 2009, the U.S. government put $32 million into a project to prevent insurgents from placing explosives under roads.  But according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, no-one knows how much work was done.

In his July report to Congress, Inspector General John Sopko said it has been impossible to confirm the number of contracts issued for the project or whether required devices were installed in some 2,500 locations.

It is one of many incidents of a lack of oversight, the report said.

In one case, the inspector general found a $34 million military building in Helmand province was never needed, may never be occupied, and could be demolished.

In another, the U.S. Defense Department is  moving forward on spending nearly $772 million for aircraft the Afghan National Army currently cannot operate or maintain.
Sopko also told Congress that USAID’s $47 million Afghan stabilization program is suffering from repeated delays and is failing to meet contract objectives.

The director of the USAID program in Kabul, Mike McCord, told VOA that the agency has responded to the audit concerns but he did “not feel comfortable” specifying what has been done. He defended the program.

"Well we are proud of it and we think it is doing a great job and is making a difference in the lives of local communities and it is really helping in think in terms of dealing with one of the major issues around stability which is the ability of local governments to respond to the needs of their communities," said McCord.

According to USAID, the program has “engaged” about 2,000 Afghan government officials and community leaders. But the audit found none of the money has gone to grants funding community projects, as called for in the contracts.

Participants in one of the regional programs said they found the planning workshops tedious.

Consequently, the inspector general's report said, “the program is at risk of undercutting its stated objectives to promote stability and improve Afghan perceptions of their government.”

In an April report, an audit of health services found two new USAID-funded hospitals, costing $18.5 million, may not be sustainable.  Afghan officials have said they will not be able to fund the operation or maintain the hospitals.

Former ambassador and analyst Omar Samad at the New America Foundation, warns of the dangers of such miscalculations.

"Waste, mismanagement, fraud and corruption, undermine and damage not only relations between nations but also can undermine the mission overall.  The American people have been very generous over the last 12 years. It is taxpayers' money and there has to be accountability for it," said Samad.

Samad said oversight of U.S. aid to Afghanistan is crucial.

"Part of the accountability comes for the donor, and part of it from the recipient.  What we have seen in Afghanistan is that a lot of money has been spent, a lot of work has been accomplished, some very good, some not so good, and to have an entity like SIGAR as a watchdog look into the process and identify the area problems is important as long as action is taken to correct it," he said.

Congress has provided nearly $93 billion to build Afghan security forces, improve governance and foster economic development.  USAID has invested about $17 billion of that money in Afghanistan since 2002.

Inspector General Sopko says it is the most costly rebuilding of a single country in U.S. history. But he warns there appears to be a growing gap between Washington’s policy objectives and the reality of achieving them in Afghanistan.

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