Afghanistan

The U.S. wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, said a report released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog.

The agency said it reviewed $7.8 billion spent since 2008 on buildings and vehicles. Only $343.2 million worth of buildings and vehicles “were maintained in good condition,” said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which oversees American taxpayer money spent on the protracted conflict.

The report said that just $1.2 billion of the $7.8 billion went to pay for buildings and vehicles that were used as intended.

“The fact that so many capital assets wound up not used, deteriorated or abandoned should have been a major cause of concern for the agencies financing these projects,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, said in his report.

The U.S. public is weary of the nearly 20-year-old war and President Joe Biden is reviewing a peace deal 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 prolong the war. Officials say no decision has been made.

Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government have been holding on-again-off-again talks in Qatar but a deal that could bring peace to Afghanistan after 40 years of relentless war seems far off.

Analyst Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal said the findings by SIGAR are not surprising. The reasons for the financial losses include Taliban attacks, corruption and “throwing money at the problem without considering the implications,” he said.

“It is one thing to build a clinic and school, it is another to operate, maintain, and in many cases defend this infrastructure from Taliban attacks,” said Roggio. “Additionally, the West has wildly underestimated the impact of Afghan corruption and in many cases incompetence. It was always a recipe for failure.”

U.S. agencies responsible for construction did not even ask the Afghans if they wanted or needed the buildings they ordered built, or if they had the technical ability to keep them running, Sopko said in his report.

The waste occurred in violation of “multiple laws stating that U.S. agencies should not construct or procure capital assets until they can show that the benefiting country has the financial and technical resources and capability to use and maintain those assets effectively,” he said.

Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, said a “donor-knows-best” mentality often prevailed and it routinely meant little to no consultation with the Afghan government on projects.

He said a lack of coordination among the many international donors aided the wastefulness. For example, he said schools were on occasion built alongside other newly constructed schools financed by other donors. The construction went ahead because once the decision was made — contract awarded and money allocated — the school was built regardless of the need, said Farhadi.

The injection of billions of dollars, largely unmonitored, fueled runaway corruption among both Afghans and international contractors. But experts say that despite the waste, the need for assistance is real, given the Afghan governments heavy dependence on international money.

The worsening security situation in Afghanistan also greatly impeded the monitoring of projects, with shoddy construction going undetected, said Farhadi, the former Afghan government adviser.

“Consult with the locals about their needs and sustainability of the project once the project is complete,” he urged U.S. funding agencies looking to future projects. “Supervise, supervise, supervise project progress and implementation and audit every single layer of expenditure.”

Going forward, Roggio said smaller, more manageable projects should be the order of the day. To build big unmanageable projects that Afghanistan has neither the capacity nor technical expertise for after 40 years of relentless war “feeds into the Taliban narrative that the government is corrupt, incompetent, and incapable of providing for the Afghan people,” he said.

Biden weighs a dilemma

An AP report datelined Washington, February 26, 2021 said:

“America’s longest war is approaching a crossroads.

“President Joe Biden’s choices in Afghanistan boil down to this: withdraw all troops by May, as promised by his predecessor, and risk a resurgence of extremist dangers, or stay and possibly prolong the war in hopes of compelling the Taliban to make peace with a weak and fractured government.

“The second option may be the most likely, but officials say no decision has been made.”

The report said:

“Afghanistan presents one of the new administration’s tougher and more urgent decisions. The U.S. public is weary of a war nearly 20 years old, but pulling out now could be seen as giving the Taliban too much leverage and casting a shadow over the sacrifices made by U.S. and coalition troops and Afghan civilians.

“Biden has not commented in detail on Afghanistan since taking office, but he has a long history with the war. In 2009 as vice president, he lost an internal administration debate at a crucial juncture in the war; he argued for reducing the U.S. military commitment to focus mainly on countering extremist groups, but President Barack Obama decided instead to vastly increase troop numbers to 100,000.

“The Obama strategy failed to force the Taliban to seek peace, and by the time Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017 Obama had dropped the troop total to about 8,500. Trump increased it by several thousand later that year, and after his administration reached a conditional peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020, he began a withdrawal, including a reduction last month to the current total of 2,500.

“Biden said during the 2020 campaign that he might keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan but also would “end the war responsibly” to ensure U.S. forces never have to return.

“‘I would bring American combat troops in Afghanistan home during my first term,’ he wrote last summer in response to written questions from the Council on Foreign Relations, although the U.S. mission there already shifted some years ago from combat to advising Afghan security forces. ‘Any residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be focused only on counterterrorism operations.’

“The administration says it is studying the February 2020 so-called Doha deal in which the Taliban agreed to stop attacking U.S. and coalition forces and to start peace talks with the Kabul government, among other things, in exchange for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops by May 1, 2021.”

The AP report added:

“Senior U.S. officials have asserted for months that the Taliban has fallen short of its Doha commitments, and although the administration’s review is ongoing, arguments for extending a troop presence beyond May 1 are considerable.

“U.S. allies in NATO have not disputed the U.S. complaint that the Taliban has not fulfilled it Doha commitments, nor have they called for an early troop withdrawal. Some appear to be preparing for a U.S. decision to stay beyond May 1.

“The deadline, barely two months away, is itself a factor, since it will soon be too late to get all 10,000 U.S. and NATO troops out in an orderly way by May 1. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week that he has assured U.S. allies and partners in Afghanistan there will be no “hasty” pullout, and that Washington’s focus is on diplomacy.

“‘Clearly, the violence is too high right now, and more progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations, and so I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace,’ he told reporters.

“A further hint of the administration’s thinking may be its repeated reference to reviewing “compliance” with the Doha agreement, suggesting the possibility that the administration ultimately will argue that Taliban noncompliance makes the May 1 deadline void, or at least moveable.

“That was the central argument offered in a Feb. 3 report by the congressionally authorized Afghanistan Study Group, whose members included Joseph Dunford, the retired Marine general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who once led U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It called for an immediate diplomatic push to extend the May 1 withdrawal deadline.

“‘The Study Group believes that further U.S. troop withdrawals should be conditioned on the Taliban’s demonstrated willingness and capacity to contain terrorist groups, on a reduction in the Taliban’s violence against the Afghan people, and on real progress toward a compromise political settlement,’ the report said.

“A complete U.S. troop withdrawal not tied to progress in peace negotiations would likely lead to an end to most U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan and a closing of the American embassy, it argued.

“‘This would be a highly risky, and even dangerous, approach that could foment more conflict than it resolves and create the sort of threats that imperil U.S. security. It would most likely result in a new chapter of civil war, not unlike the one that erupted in the 1990s and led to 9/11,’ it said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that prompted a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan a month later.

“Stephen Biddle, a Columbia University professor who previously advised U.S. military officials on the war, says it probably was a mistake for the Trump administration to promise a full withdrawal by a specific date.

“‘If it’s important enough to be there at all, to be spending money at all, to be risking lives at all, then the point of being there is to get a negotiated agreement, and for that you need leverage,’ Biddle said. What is left of American leverage at this point, he said, rests with the U.S. military presence and the prospect of financial aid once a peace deal is done.

“‘We need to husband our leverage, and that means not unilaterally withdrawing without a deal,” he added. “If you’re serious about a deal and are willing to do what it takes to get one, then that implies patience beyond April, probably.’”

Germany prepares way for its troops to stay in Afghanistan

Other media reports said:

The German government is preparing the way for the country’s troops in Afghanistan — the second-biggest contingent in a NATO force — to stay in place until next year if needed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a new draft mandate that would enable German troops to stay until Jan. 31, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said.

German troop deployments overseas require parliamentary approval, which is typically granted on an annual basis. The current mandate for Afghanistan expires at the end of March.

NATO has just under 10,000 troops in the war-ravaged country, helping to train and advise Afghan security forces. Germany’s contingent of nearly 1,100 is the second-biggest in the Resolute Support mission after the U.S.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be tied to progress in slow-moving peace negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban, rather than “slavishly” bound to the May 1 deadline.

Seibert said that the maximum level of 1,300 German troops is unchanged in the new mandate. He said its proposed expiry date “takes account appropriately of the complex situation in Afghanistan and also makes possible the flexibility necessary to be able to react if the volatile security and threat situation there changes.”

It also is designed to give Germany’s newly elected parliament and government an early say in what happens going forward. Germans will elect a new parliament on Sept. 26, but it typically takes weeks or even a few months before a new coalition government is in place.

China to provide Afghanistan with COVID-19 vaccine

Reports from Kabul said:

China has pledged to deliver 400,000 doses of Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine to Afghanistan, Afghan officials said on Monday.

“China’s ambassador to Kabul said in a meeting with health officials that his country would provide Afghanistan with 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” said Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, the health ministry’s head of the immunization program.

The Sinopharm vaccine produced in China has been approved by the World Health Organization, but it is unclear when it will be delivered, said Nazari.

So far just over 12,000 health workers have received the vaccine in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, he said.

The vaccination of members of the security forces has also begun.

The militant group has also said it supports the vaccination campaign.

Afghanistan has already received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, which enabled the nation to launch its vaccination drive last Tuesday.

Afghan health officials have said that the international COVAX program, which is aimed at improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine for developing countries, would provide vaccines to cover 20% of the country’s 38 million population.

Afghanistan has registered 55,733 infections and 2,444 deaths. But experts say cases are significantly under-reported due to low testing and limited access to medical facilities in the war-torn country.


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