Follow the Money: The War in Afghanistan

Updated on August 11, 2017
PegCole17 profile image

Peg earned a BA Degree at UTD and a Master's Certificate in Project Mgmt. She managed multi-million dollar telecom projects across the U.S.

Bagram Airfield Afghanistan
Bagram Airfield Afghanistan | Source

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

A
5th Avenue New York:
5th Ave, New York, NY, USA

get directions

B
Bagram Airfield Afghanistan:
Bagram Airfield, Bagram, Afghanistan

get directions

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.

2012 President Barack Obama addresses the people of the U.S. from Afghanistan.
2012 President Barack Obama addresses the people of the U.S. from Afghanistan. | Source

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.

Two Afghan National Army Soldiers talk with a local Afghan during Operation Saray
Two Afghan National Army Soldiers talk with a local Afghan during Operation Saray | Source

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.

During the Village Medical Outreach, the village elder, Guloojan (left) along with other key leaders met with members of the U.S. forces to discuss the significance of providing medical and humanitarian assistance to the Alizay Kulay village.
During the Village Medical Outreach, the village elder, Guloojan (left) along with other key leaders met with members of the U.S. forces to discuss the significance of providing medical and humanitarian assistance to the Alizay Kulay village. | Source

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.

Afghan National Army Air Corps Brig. Gen. Mohammad Yousaf renders honors July 31, 2007 during a historic change-of-command ceremony at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan
Afghan National Army Air Corps Brig. Gen. Mohammad Yousaf renders honors July 31, 2007 during a historic change-of-command ceremony at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan | Source

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.

Human Cost

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

Assisting Afghan National Police with a map reading program
Assisting Afghan National Police with a map reading program | Source

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

  1. World Atlas, Where is Afghanistan?
  2. High Risk Report by the Special Inspector General, John F. Sopko, January 2017
  3. 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.
  4. The White House, “Fact Sheet: NATO’s Enduring Commitment to Afghanistan,” 7/9/2016

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Peg Cole

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      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Peggy, I'll have to get a copy of that book, Lone Survivor. It sounds like something I would like. I agree that with this war there needs to be measurable objectives and a time frame for implementing them. This has cost way too much in terms of lives, injuries, separation of families from their service members and money. Five billion dollars a year would go a long way toward helping other causes that need it.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Lawrence, Sorry I missed your comment for so long. I would love to hear the rest of what you have to say but the comment ended rather abruptly. Not sure why.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        I read the book titled Lone Survivor which was also made into a movie. The book was fabulous! It was a true story written about a U.S. Seal who went to Afghanistan. After reading the book I was left with the idea that this is not in any way a war that can be won for many reasons. It is not only costing money that could be spent elsewhere but it is costing our precious soldier's lives. Opium will still be grown there and terrorists will still find a safe haven there despite all our efforts to eradicate them. It is a losing scenario in my opinion.

      • profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        17 months ago

        Peg

        Interesting to say the least.

        First of all I'll explain I used to work with a development agency. Granted, I was in Iraq (northern Iraq with the Kurds) and there things were done VERY DIFFERENTLY. We never had the funds ava

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        That's what I thought, MsDora. With all the talk about the Defense Budget the average citizen would assume we're building up our own military rather than paying the salaries of the ANDSF, $5 Billion/year of which the U.S. is committed to paying $3.65 to $4.26 Billion/year. That would house a lot of homeless people.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        18 months ago from The Caribbean

        With all these documented cons, are there any reasonable pros in favor of continuing this war? I like your title trend "Follow the Money." How much longer do we watch the money disappear? Thanks for bringing this issue into our consciousness.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Flourish, I agree about setting a completion goal on a project of that enormous expense. If we don't know where and what the finish line is we will never reach it. Thank you for the great insight and for stopping in.

      • Becky Katz profile image

        Becky Katz 

        18 months ago from Hereford, AZ

        Peg, my husband told me about that and while I could not give you references to look it up, I totally believe it. He never told me about things like that that were not proven to his satisfaction. And he was very particular.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Becky, I didn't know that about Lady Bird Johnson. That would make an interesting article with insight about who the true winners of wars really are in terms of profit. It's so good to see you here. Thanks so much for coming by.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Tim, Thanks for reading this and for your astute remarks. I agree that progress in this effort appears negligible considering the years invested and the toll on those involved. The cost seems to far outweigh the benefit from what I can see.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        18 months ago from USA

        We always need to ask what's in it for us in the long term and need to consider who might be benefitting financially in the American business sector. There has to be some American business incentive to keep this going.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Maria,

        I appreciate your thoughtful response to this report. I truly find these facts fascinating and yet so disturbing. Thanks for the kind words.

      • Becky Katz profile image

        Becky Katz 

        18 months ago from Hereford, AZ

        Peg, Lady Bird Johnson became a multi-billionaire from Vietnam. A company owned by her had the contract to keep the roads in usable condition. Our Vice-President Cheney was the beneficiary for Iraq. That was in addition to the oil contracts that were forced in. I believe we know who gained and it was not the U.S. or the soldiers that fought the wars.

      • tsmog profile image

        Tim Mitchell 

        18 months ago from Escondido, CA

        Thanks Peg for the article. It caught my eye in my email. I am kinda' ignorant on Afghanistan and did not know much until reading this. I am amazed our commitment has been 15+ years. You have enlightened me that is seems to be a descending circular staircase. Or, a least if making progress definitely is a snail much slower than a turtle.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Dear Mckbirdbooks, I truly think you're right about the laundering. War is a profit machine for the supply side and devastation for those who have to stand up and follow orders. Thanks so much for your input.

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        18 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

        What a thorough, objective and professional research, dear Peg.

        "I'm not sure I understand the justification for this enormous expense and the high price we pay with injuries and loss of life of our soldiers." I couldn't agree with you more.

      • mckbirdbks profile image

        mckbirdbks 

        18 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

        Hello Peg - I won't pretend to explain the world. I will offer that so much of the money spoken of in this report (which I have not read) is going to big contractors in the U.S. It is funneled in a wide circle, out of U.S. taxpayers (eventually - because it is all borrowed money) into the pockets big defense contractors. Some money may even do some good inside the country, but if you look at the country in general and the poverty there, you can guess nothing is improving.

        Think money laundering scheme.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Mike, I'm sure you understand this sort of thing better than I do. I've only just begun to take an interest in these reports and it is truly eye opening. I don't understand why we keep going further into debt to fund other countries' reconstruction efforts when our own infrastructure is in such desperate need of repair. Our water pipelines (Flint) are filled with lead and our hundred year old bridges are in disrepair and yet... Maybe someone can explain this.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        18 months ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Martie, Thanks for taking time to read this recap of the SIGAR report. I'm not sure I understand the justification for this enormous expense and the high price we pay with injuries and loss of life of our soldiers. It seems ambitious to think we can fix the morals of other countries when it comes to corruption when our own nation suffers from the same issue.

      • mckbirdbks profile image

        mckbirdbks 

        18 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

        Hello Peg - This is a very constructive piece of reporting. I see there are many issues that face America, one of them their continued roll as a world leader.

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        18 months ago from South Africa

        Surely Afghanistan doesn't deserve this enormous support from the USA? What's in this for the USA?

        Thanks for this comprehensive explanation, Peg.

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