Afghanistan has long been a corrupt place. The United States has nothing to make it better. In fact, it’s made it worse, according to new findings released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
In its first “Lessons Learned” report, the watchdog agency concluded that the American presence in Afghanistan since 2001 helped grow corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the local economy with poor oversight and broken contracting practices. SIGAR also found the United States partnered with corrupt Afghan players.
“Our report points out that while corruption in Afghanistan pre-dates 2001, it has become far more serious and widespread since then,” SIGAR chief John Sopko said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “But after 2001, internal drivers of corruption — including insecurity, weak systems of accountability, and the drug trade — combined with new drivers: a huge influx of foreign assistance, poor oversight of that assistance, and a willingness to partner with abusive and corrupt power brokers.”
He added, “The result for Afghanistan was systemic corruption — pervasive and entrenched, affecting the courts, the army and police, banking, and other critical sectors.”
Spoke said graft undermined U.S. policy objectives; that the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID did not take anti-corruption efforts as seriously as they should have; and that efforts to nation-build ended up wasting money.
SIGAR also found systemic corruption within the Afghan government contributed to billions in wasted cash. Pervasive bad deeds within Afghan security ministries and the Afghan National Security Forces also contributed to wasted money.
American fuel has been stolen. Money meant to fight insurgents ended up in the hands of people like Ahmed Wali Karzai, former President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, who built an empire in Kandahar Province with control over private security forces, contracting firms, and real estate. Drug traffickers with ties to Afghan politicians ended up receiving American money.
Sopko has been sounding the alarm on wasted money in Afghanistan for years, but little has been done to improve the problem. He recommended all agencies providing cash to Afghanistan undergo a substantial review of their anti-corruption best practices. He called on Congress to pass legislation mandating U.S. agencies do more to stop graft.
After 15 years of war, and 2,174 American lives lost there, it remains to be seen if anyone will listen to him.
By David Francis