By: Avery Kleinman
As involvement in Afghanistan comes to a close, the U.S. will lose much of its ability to conduct oversight of ongoing taxpayer-funded reconstruction projects. The Washington Post discovered at least 15 projects, worth over $1 billion combined, expected to continue past President Obama’s projected Afghanistan withdrawal date.
Since 2001, the U.S. has invested hundreds of billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan and the country’s reconstruction. This chapter of foreign policy will soon be over, with plans to remove 40,000 troops over the next year and close dozens of bases.
The withdrawal means that U.S. officials who usually watch over reconstruction work will not be able to do so. The ongoing work includes three garrisons for the Afghan Army, worth $60 to $80 million each, a $75 million project on a dam in the southwest and $230 million highway in the east. According to The Washington Post, only about 20 percent of the country will be accessible to U.S. oversight by 2014.
John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), told the Post that some of the U.S.-funded projects will never even be seen by an American government employee. The U.S. hopes to evaluate the ongoing projects using teams of private contractors, satellite photos, and feedback from Afghans.
From The Washington Post article:
The inability of U.S. government personnel to inspect development projects is prompting worry among lawmakers and government inspectors that millions more dollars could be squandered in what has become the costliest reconstruction of a single country in American history.
“I would be shocked if this doesn’t have an unhappy ending,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been critical of reconstruction programs in Afghanistan and Iraq. “They are kissing oversight goodbye.”
The U.S. will also have to diminish its oversight of the Afghan Army. The Pentagon expects to spend $4 billion training and equipping the country’s security forces next year and almost as much in the years that follow. A senior U.S. defense official told the Post the U.S. plans to install civilian advisers to conduct oversight.
“The goal is to install a method of accountability,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Pentagon has not yet provided a formal response to queries on the subject posed by Sopko.
The official also said the Pentagon would seek to place more responsibility on the Afghan government to track the use of U.S. funds. “We’ve told them that it’s incumbent on them to be good stewards of the resources given to them,” the official said.
Even with full U.S. oversight, reconstruction in Afghanistan has had more than a few problems. The Project On Government Oversight recently reported on SIGAR most recent Quarterly Report to Congress, which found “serious shortcomings in U.S. oversight of contracts,” including a “pervasive lack of accountability.” And in July, a teacher training facility constructed under the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was closed due to health and safety hazards.