Follow the Money: The War in Afghanistan
News of the war in Afghanistan reaches the general public mostly in the feel good stories of soldiers surprising loved ones with an unexpected return home. Many Americans do not know the history of our efforts in this far distant country, nor where it is located on a map.
Afghanistan shares borders with six countries: Iran; Turkmenistan; China; Pakistan; Tajikistan; and Uzbekistan. The borders fall slightly south below Europe and Asia and northeast of Africa.
Yet, despite Afghanistan's distance of over seven thousand miles from the mainland of the United States, we continue funding and fighting what has become America's longest war.
7410 Miles from the U.S. to Afghanistan
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, also known as SIGAR, has issued a 68 page report detailing the efforts and expenditures over the past fifteen years during which the U.S. has been intervening in that country's affairs. Before the U.S. became involved, the Afghans fought a number of volatile foes including invasion by the communists from Russia.
Since 2002, during the Bush administration, Congress has appropriated more than $115 billion for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Where has this money been spent? It has been used in training of Afghan security forces, to stand up the Afghan government, and develop the local economy.
According to the S.I.G., John F. Sopko, there are eight areas of high risk when it comes to this reconstruction mission.
While all eight risk areas outlined in this report threaten reconstruction, the questionable capabilities of the Afghan security forces and pervasive corruption are the most critical."— John F. Sopko, SIG
8 Areas of High Risk
Of the eight areas that threaten the success of the reconstruction efforts, Mr. Sopko sites the most critical. "Without capable security forces, Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own." This fact, combined with the entrenched corruption, could ultimately lead our reconstruction efforts to failure "to the detriment of our national-security goals in Afghanistan."
After fifteen years of American lives lost and forever altered through injury, along with billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent supporting this effort, the likelihood of failure seems imminent.
Number 1 Risk: Afghan Security Forces Capacity and Capabilities
We are losing ground. More than half of the money spent since 2002 has gone toward training, equipping and sustaining Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). As opposed to 72% of the country's districts under Afghan governmental control in 2015, the percentage in 2016 is reported at 63.4%. Capability gaps exist in key areas such as intelligence, aviation, and logistics, all of which hinder effectiveness.
Troops Who get Paid but don't Fight
Number 2 Risk: Corruption
Corruption continues to be one of the most serious threats to the success of the U.S. funded reconstruction effort. The Afghan state's lack of legitimacy has eroded the ability to recruit troops and popular support discouraging foreign investment and economic growth.
Number 3 Risk: Sustainability
Without additional, massive donor support, Afghans cannot sustain the investment. Prior to the war years, Afghanistan was an agricultural based economy. Many of its residents are impoverished and lack solid educational facilities like schools in which to improve their educational levels. The population lacks the funds to continue reconstruction efforts without substantial financial aid from other countries.
Number 4 Risk: On Budget Support
Financial assistance which travels through multi-level trust funds of donor support faces the risk of misappropriation and mismanagement. There is evidence that the Afghan government still cannot manage and protect these funds and may not use them appropriately.
Number 5 Risk: Counternarcotics
Afghanistan leads the world in opium production despite $8.5 billion U.S. dollars spent toward counter narcotics efforts. Insurgents receive substantial funding and farmers continue to grow more opium than ever. Cultivation and trafficking of these products puts reconstruction at risk.
Number 6 Risk: Contract Management
The difficulty in collecting data and maintaining records in the remoteness of this country is magnified by the predominance of active insurgency, widespread corruption, difficulty in verifying data and limited ministerial capability.
Number 7 Risk: Oversight
Oversight of reconstruction by trained professionals has become increasingly difficult. There is limited recordkeeping, poor documentation and contract management efforts are negligible. Lack of attention in holding contractors responsible for poor quality work is a key factor.
Number 8 Risk: Strategy and Planning
With any project of significance, coordination of work and expenditures is essential to progress. Lack of cooperation between civilian agencies and the U.S. Military results in money being spent on nonessential endeavors. Failure to coordinate efforts results in working at cross purposes, mismanagement and waste of resources.
From October 2001 to December 1, 2016, a total of 2,247 U.S. military personnel have died in support of operations in Afghanistan, while more than 20,000 others were wounded in action.
Beyond these key factors in evaluating our combined efforts we must consider the human cost of war. The loss of lives identified in a report from Brown University cites "more than 3,500 contractors, 1,100 allied troops, 30,000 Afghan military and police personnel, and 31,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001."
"At the Warsaw Summit in July, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreed to continue spending around $5 billion annually through 2020 to support the ANDSF, of which, the United States is expected to provide roughly $3-4 billion a year." 4
What is Reconstruction?
In this case, reconstruction varies from the traditional definition where government facilities, roads, energy plants, hospitals, and schools are in the works. The proposed and ongoing efforts are divided into three categories: security; governance; and economic and social development.
According to the SIGAR report, the budget includes funds to pay "the salaries of the Afghan security forces, implement programs to promote good governance, rebuild Afghanistan’s justice sector and bolster the rule of law, help the government fight corruption and narcotics cultivation and trafficking, and strengthen Afghanistan’s weak economy. U.S. tax dollars provide weapons to Afghan soldiers as well as schools for Afghan children."
Without economic development, private investment and growth, Afghanistan will never become self-sustaining. After fifteen years of intervention, their government is in no position to support itself and will require funding assistance into the foreseeable future.
According to the Department of Defense, the Afghan economy will not grow quickly enough to cover its own security expenditures, estimated in 2016 at $5.1 billion dollars of which, the U.S. provided $3.65 billion dollars. "President Obama’s FY 2017 amended budget request sought $4.26 billion for that purpose."
Where Are We Headed?
The question remains as to what the upcoming Presidential administration will do concerning this outpouring of American tax dollars into what appears to be an abyss of never-ending foreign aid expense. Will the Trump administration continue to pour money into what is categorized as a corrupt and inefficient system of government that has lost ground and lasted longer than any war in the history of the United States?
Notes and Sources
- World Atlas, Where is Afghanistan?
- High Risk Report by the Special Inspector General, John F. Sopko, January 2017
- Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Costs of War: Update on the Human Costs of War for Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001 to mid-2016, 8/2016, pp. 1, 6–7, 9.
- The White House, “Fact Sheet: NATO’s Enduring Commitment to Afghanistan,” 7/9/2016