Tuesday June 25, 2024

US says $300m per year lost to ‘ghost soldiers’ in Afghanistan

By Javad M Goraya
August 23, 2021
US says $300m per year lost to ‘ghost soldiers’ in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: US government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko, in its 20 year review issued this month, states that due to poor oversight by US officials, more than $300 million a year were pocketed by corrupt officials as salary payments to ‘ghost soldiers’ by inflating payrolls of Afghan National Army and other forces.

The SIGAR way back in 2017 had also concluded that the United States, despite its $83 billion spent on Afghan Army, “designed a force that was not able to provide nationwide security”. The latest SIGAR review for US Congress, Secretary of State and Defense lists the failures in accomplishing goals of Afghan war after spending $145 billion in Afghan reconstruction and $837 billion in military spending. The major success of the Afghan reconstruction listed are lower child mortality rates, increases in per capita GDP and literacy rates.

The SIGAR review expresses concern that despite massive spending, Taliban ties with al-Qaeda remain intact and that al-Qaeda is still reported to be present in 15 Afghan provinces. And that the US had to conclude a deal with Taliban in 2020, a year which saw the highest number of 40,000 “enemy initiated attacks” in 20 years and Taliban control majority of provinces. The report estimates that 75% of Afghans live in fear and insecurity compared to 40% in 2006.

In its April 2021 review, The SIGAR report stated that 47% Afghans live in poverty and unemployment was around 38%. The poverty level was 36% in 2007 as per US State Department. The SIGAR report adds that 16.9 million Afghans are facing “crisis” and “emergency” levels of food insecurity, including 5.5 million people experiencing “emergency” levels—the second highest in the world after Congo. It states that almost half of children under five years old faces acute malnutrition in 2021. The report adds these difficult conditions have pushed some Afghans to illegally selling their bodily organs. Despite this harrowing data and unduly extended and mishandled Afghan war, IMF last week has stopped $430 million to Afghanistan and other leading countries have stopped aid disbursements to Afghanistan.

The August SIGAR review states that Afghan war objectives are not met due to lack of a coherent strategy, unrealistic timelines leading to corruption and waste of funds, unsustainable projects, weak understanding of ground realities in Afghanistan and high insecurity.

The SIGAR review points that Department of Defense (DoD) dominated the war mission in Afghanistan and at times prevailed upon State Department/USAID to undertake projects opposed by them. One example given is construction and fueling of two massive diesel generators to provide electricity in Kandahar City on expensive imported fuel. The project collapsed in 2016 due to high operating costs and plunged vast majority of Kandahar back into darkness. The review points out that DoD spending is not subject to same level of accountability, monitoring and evaluation as State Department/ USAID in conflict zones. An example of poor planning in DoD wasteful expenses mentioned is from 2008 when DOD spent $549 million to provide Afghan Air Force with G222 military transport planes which US Air Force itself had retired almost 30 years earlier due to non-availability of replacement parts. By 2014, DoD came to the same conclusion and the G222 planes delivered to Afghanistan six years earlier were sold as scrap metal for only $40,257. In another example, same type of specialised cargo trucks for Afghan Army trucks worth $195 million were procured twice due to duplicity of requisitions and approvals.

The review mentions that US agencies spent only approximately 12 percent of reconstruction assistance “on-budget,” through the Afghan government which did not allow capacity building of Afghan government. This was done despite heavy shortcomings in US agencies in understanding local needs, priorities, ground realities etc. and resulted in unsustainable projects. In 2008, for instance, USAID awarded a contract for the design and construction of two hospitals in Paktia and Paktika provinces for $18.5 million without realizing that annual operating and maintenance costs of the new hospitals were many times those of the hospitals they were intended to replace. The SIGAR found that USAID began construction on the hospitals a year before they even shared the plans with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

A 2021 SIGAR report found that the United States spent 31% of nearly $7.8 billion on buildings, transmission lines and substations, roads and bridges, motor vehicles, and aircraft which were not required, unused, or had been abandoned or destroyed. In 2021, The SIGAR audited a sample of 60 US infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, and found that $723.8 million, or 91 percent, had gone toward wasteful assets.

The United States spent $4.7 billion trying to make district-level governments in contested areas seem responsive to their constituents. However, the United States failed to acknowledge that the districts had no budget to even maintain what had been built, much less continue

the work.

Similar failure were witnessed in the $9 billion spent on eradicating poppy cultivation. And billions spent on the new legal system in a society which settled most disputes on centuries old traditions. Large amount of development funds were wasted due to lack of oversight over contractors deployed by US agencies. The report also mentions ways in which contractors, government officials and insurgents devised a mechanism in which portion of US funds went back into insurgents operations.