The Inspector General’s report shows the shambolic state of the 16.5-year military quagmire in Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led coalition has been trying to stabilize a beleaguered puppet government in the face of stubborn resistance by such groups as the Taliban.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The ongoing Afghan quagmire appears to be a vast funnel sucking away billions of dollars of reconstruction funds and U.S. taxpayer money with nearly no oversight or accountability, a new report by a U.S. government watchdog has warned.
The audit, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), casts a grim light on the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), a World Bank-administered fund that has disbursed over $10 billion contributed by 34 nations to ongoing efforts to rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan. As the largest participant in the occupation of Afghanistan, the United States has led the reconstruction effort with over $3 billion donated since 2002.
“Once the U.S. or any other donor provides its contributions to the fund, neither the World Bank nor USAID can account for how those funds are specifically spent,” SIGAR said in a statement, adding that the World Bank is unable to determine the impact on the development effort of the entire $10 billion-plus contributed.
The report shows the shambolic state of the 16.5-year military quagmire in the Southwest Asian country, where the U.S.-led coalition has been trying to stabilize a beleaguered puppet government in the face of stubborn resistance by such groups as the Taliban.
Ghost workers, dysfunctional projects and corruption
The special inspector’s office found that much of the spending is unconditional, owing to the ARTF’s goal of pursuing all available spending that could assist the U.S.-installed Afghan government. According to USAID, geographic location isn’t taken into account – posing the danger that the U.S. and donor nations are pouring funding into areas under the control of the Taliban and other groups opposed to the coalition presence.
Security spending doesn’t fall under the auspices of ARTF, which describes itself as devoted to providing “important results” in budget financing for the agriculture, education, governance, health, infrastructure, and rural development sectors of the country’s economy.
SIGAR also found that the fund is likely plagued with, and fuels, the corruption now endemic to the puppet state. It funds, for example, an unknown number of “ghost workers,” tagged as government staff and teachers receiving salaries — despite the absence of any third-party or government agency capable of physically verifying the existence of payees in insecure areas, hostile to the Kabul national government or occupation authorities.
The direction of the expenditures is largely determined by political pressure to spend the funds, as well as by the overall lack of accountability, according to SIGAR’s sources:
A senior aide to Afghanistan’s President told us that the structure of the ARTF allows for ill-conceived projects to be funded because there is no repayment obligation and that dysfunctional projects are nearly impossible to eliminate … [Pressure to spend exists], even if the programs and projects being funded are ill-conceived or unneeded, or risk losing future funding.”
SIGAR recommended that the World Bank improve and expand physical verification methods, improve transparency, and perform periodic performance evaluations, while also giving donors more say in the operation of the ARTF.
The World Bank welcomed the report in a statement, yet also criticized its findings as “somewhat anecdotal” and not having taken account of measures intended to improve reporting on how funds are disbursed, or assessments finding that ARTF remains a preferred funding body due to its low cost and transparency.
No end in sight
The report’s release comes as the Taliban announced its latest Spring offensive against the occupation and local authorities, dubbed the Al Khandaq Jihadi operations. The move comes in spite of President Ghani’s appeal for peace talks without any attached preconditions.
While acting U.S. Secretary of State John Sullivan accused the Taliban’s announcement of the offensive as evidencing how the insurgent group is responsible for “the insecurity that destroys the lives of thousands of Afghans” every year, the group accuses the national government of offering talks in bad faith in an effort to legitimize the U.S.-led coalition’s presence in the country:
Their main effort is to deviate the public opinion from the illegitimate foreign occupation of the country, as the Americans have no serious or sincere intentions of bringing the war to an end. Rather they want to intensify and prolong it by engulfing Afghanistan as well as the whole region in its flames, thus securing chances of their further influence and interference.”
The Taliban have persistently refused to end their fight against occupying forces and the fragile national government they describe as “repulsive sellouts.” While it ruled the country from 1996 until its 2001 ousting, the majority Pashto ethnicity Islamist group applied a strict interpretation of theocratic law based on rural religious-influenced traditionalism.
The group has derided U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to boost troop numbers and “fight to win” until the Taliban accepts peace talks and a political settlement of the war. The group refuses to recognize the Kabul “puppet regime” and won’t negotiate a peace deal until the U.S. withdraws from the country, noting that “talks about peace during the presence of invaders will not yield results and are meaningless.”
Top Photo | An employee of Doctors Without Borders, MSF, walks inside the charred remains of the organization’s hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim, File)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.