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Watchdog Warns Corruption in Afghanistan Could Undermine U.S. Progress

U.S. "not only failed to recognize the significance of corruption, but may even have fostered a political climate conducive to corruption."

Rodrigo Sermeño


March 30, 2014 - 11:13 pm
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WASHINGTON – The top watchdog in Afghanistan warned Thursday that uncontrolled corruption could derail the fragile progress the United States has made in the country over the last 12 years.

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), said that 2014 will be a pivotal year for the country as a new government is selected in the April presidential election and the Afghan National Army and police will take over security responsibilities from American troops.

“The uncertainties and risks have never been greater. The security, political and economic transition is underway,” he said.

The majority of U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, which means responsibility for preserving security will fall to the nation’s army and police forces.

Since U.S. troops arrived in the country to overthrow the Taliban in 2001, Congress has provided over $102 billion to build Afghan security forces, establish governing institutions, and foster economic development.

Although U.S. military presence after this year remains uncertain, Sopko does not expect U.S. and international aid to be cut off.

“The reconstruction mission, however, is far from over,” Sopko said. “The United States and its allies agree that Afghanistan will require significant international assistance for years and years to come.”

Sopko, who just returned from his sixth tour of Afghanistan since taking the position in 2012, spoke at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. He said that during his time in Afghanistan he learned of hospitals low on supplies, roads that were “disintegrating faster than we can build them,” and army and police garrisons “that are not usable.”

As the U.S. government’s watchdog in Afghanistan, SIGAR investigates money wasted by the Defense and State Departments and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) due to corruption, waste, and fiscal abuse, but does not make policy. Sopko can only make recommendations to these agencies on how to spend and oversee their reconstruction dollars. His office has a staff of more than 200 auditors, inspectors, investigators and support personnel tasked with overseeing U.S. investments in Afghanistan.

Sopko said U.S. strategy of paying and arming local warlords to fight the Taliban and then to rule it under U.S. protection allowed many of these groups to “entrench and expand patronage.” In some cases, these groups have turned into criminal networks involved “in everything from extrajudicial land seizures and extortion, to narcotics trafficking and money laundering.”

He said allowing rampant corruption to continue in Afghanistan could jeopardize every gain made in the past 12 years.

He said the billions of dollars spent on lifting up the impoverished country has contributed to burgeoning corruption amid a weak and overwhelmed government.

Congress appropriated President Obama’s request for more than $16 billion to rebuild Afghanistan in 2010, not including the money spent on military operations that year. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s total gross domestic product in 2010 was only $15.9 billion.

“Massive military and aid spending overwhelmed the Afghan government’s ability to absorb the assistance,” Sopko said.

He said it is not that Afghans are predisposed for corruption, but rather in an environment where there is “too much money and too little oversight” people will naturally grasp at the opportunity to line their pockets, especially if they are poor.

He criticized the agencies he oversees for lacking “a unified anti-corruption strategy in Afghanistan,” which Sopko thinks has only hindered their own efforts.

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All Comments   (8)
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What kind of idiot would not believe there would be corruption in Afghanistan. This is the Land of Baksheesh. It is part of their way of life. It's how the Turd World works. And how American cities work.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm more concerned about eh corruption in D.C.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're exactly right, Timoleon: our own level of corruption may not be all that much less than it is in Afghanistan.

I remember walking downtown in my city one day and finding that the nearly new cement sidewalk, just installed the previous year to replace a crumbling one, had itself been replaced by a new sidewalk made of interlocking paving stones. Our newly elected mayor had apparently replaced this new sidewalk with an even newer one. I remembered that he was a local paving stone contractor and was duly shocked at the waste and the naked self-interest displayed. Ironically, a few years later, that paving stone sidewalk was itself replaced by yet ANOTHER concrete sidewalk, long before the paving stone sidewalk could have been worn out.

Ninety minutes drive away, in the city of my birth, most of the city's work crew - the city employees that patch potholes, cut the grass in parks, etc. - were fired after accumulating a truly mind-boggling record of abuse of their jobs. Dozens of them had spent their time reading newspapers and goofing off when they should have been working. And not just one day when the weather was horrible but for year upon year. The corruption was so overt that even their union couldn't save them.

In the city where I grew up, I once worked with a guy who had been on the city work crew the previous winter. He told me how a crew of 12 would be sent out to cut down dead trees in the winter. They would arrive at the site and promptly start a campfire and pull out lawn chairs. Eleven of the 12 people on the crew would park themselves in the lawn chair while one would go out and do actual work. Every half hour or so, they would rotate and someone else would get up to work while the other 11 enjoyed a quiet day of friendly companionship with their co-workers. A family member in the same city told me that she had often seen work crews come out to cut grass for the city-owned seniors home across the street; the crew was always a dozen men but there was never more than one working at a time. One would run a lawnmower while the rest stood around and waited for their turn to work.

In another city, a few hours down the road, the local TV station had heard rumors about malingering city employees and decided to follow one crew whose job it was to temporarily fill potholes (it was winter) until spring returned. They followed the pothole crew and found that in the entire day, they filled only two potholes out of many hundreds in the city. Each pothole took only 5 to 10 minutes to fill. They spent the rest of the day in donut shops drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, doing the crossword puzzle, etc. etc.

I called a department in my city to ask a question about water quality and got transferred to a specific office by the automated phone system; a message announced that the occupant of the office was not available and asked me to leave a message. Before I could, another recording advised me that this individual's voice message inbox was full and could accomodate no new messages. The only option I was offered was to try calling back when he had cleaned up his inbox; naturally, no date for that was provided. The voice message had told me the man's name so I did an online search and tracked him down in a document on the city's website; that document also included his email address. Eureka, I thought, I'll send him an email! Well, I sent that email, with my question, and I assure you it was very polite, not bitter like this diatribe. I have yet to hear back from this individual. Given that it was several years ago that I wrote this email, I've long since given up on hearing from him.

Corruption is not unique to the Third World. It is rampant here. We just turn a blind eye to it most of the time.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gee, corruption in a third world sh**hole...who would have ever thought it?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
""not only failed to recognize the significance of corruption, but may even have fostered a political climate conducive to corruption.""

File this one under the, "Well, DUH!" category.

Anybody who didn't know this is an idiot.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was there as a hippie traveler in's their culture........leave them alone and let them grow their opium.....we'll get it on the other side of the border.....
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Throw a rock into a pond.
The disturbance is great—for a while.
Then all is as before.
Did the rock ever exist?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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