Report: US wasted billions on cars, buildings in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) - The United States wasted billions of dollars on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed in war-torn Afghanistan. That is according to a report released Monday by a US government watchdog.
The agency said it has spent $ 7.8 billion on buildings and vehicles since 2008. Buildings and vehicles valued at just $ 343.2 million are "in good condition," said the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR), who oversees US tax dollars spent on the protracted conflict.
The report said that only $ 1.2 billion of the $ 7.8 billion was spent on buildings and vehicles that were used as intended.
"The fact that so many investments have gone unused, deteriorated or abandoned should have been a cause for concern for the agencies funding these projects," said John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, in his report.
The US public is fed up with the nearly 20-year-old war, and President Joe Biden is considering a peace deal that his predecessor Donald Trump signed with the Taliban a year ago. He must decide whether to withdraw all troops by May 1, as promised in the deal, or stay and possibly extend the war. Officials say no decision has been made.
Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government in the Arab Gulf state of Qatar have held talks again and again, but an agreement that could bring peace to Afghanistan after 40 years of relentless war seems a long way off.
Long War Journal analyst Bill Roggio said SIGAR's results were not surprising. The reasons for the financial losses are Taliban attacks, corruption and "throwing money on the problem without considering the implications," he said.
"It is one thing to build a clinic and a school, another to operate this infrastructure, maintain it and, in many cases, protect it from attacks by the Taliban," said Roggio. "In addition, the West has greatly underestimated the effects of Afghan corruption and, in many cases, incompetence. It has always been a recipe for failure."
The U.S. authorities responsible for construction didn't even ask Afghans if they wanted or needed the buildings they ordered or if they had the technical ability to keep them going, Sopko said in his report.
The waste violated "several laws that state that US authorities should not build or raise capital assets until they can demonstrate that the beneficiary country has the financial and technical resources and the ability to use and maintain those assets effectively ", he said.
Torek Farhadi, a former advisor to the Afghan government, said a "donor-knows-best" mentality has often prevailed and this has routinely meant little to no consultation with the Afghan government on projects.
He said a lack of coordination among the many international donors supported the waste. For example, he said schools were occasionally built alongside other newly built schools funded by other donors. Construction proceeded because once the decision was made - contract awarded and money allocated - the school was built regardless of the need, Farhadi said.
The injection of billions of dollars, most of which was left unsupervised, led to corruption spiraling out of control among both Afghans and international contractors. However, experts say that despite the waste, given Afghan governments' heavy reliance on international money, the need for assistance is real.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has also significantly hampered the monitoring of projects as poor construction work went undetected, said Farhadi, the former advisor to the Afghan government.
"After the project is complete, consult locals about their needs and the sustainability of the project," he urged US funding agencies to focus on future projects. "Monitor, monitor, monitor project progress and implementation, and review every single expense shift."
Roggio said smaller, more manageable projects should be the order of the day. The construction of large, unmanageable projects, for which Afghanistan has neither the capacity nor the technical expertise after 40 years of relentless war, “feeds into the Taliban narrative that the government is corrupt, incompetent and incapable of serving the Afghan people worry, ”he said.
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