The E-Ring

Time to consider withholding money from Afghanistan, says U.S. watchdog

The U.S. government’s watchdog over taxpayer money in Afghanistan today will deliver a clear and sobering message: if Kabul is unable to do a better job safeguarding and spending the billions in U.S. funding coming its way, Washington should shut its wallet. "We need to have the courage to withhold funding if progress is not ...

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s watchdog over taxpayer money in Afghanistan today will deliver a clear and sobering message: if Kabul is unable to do a better job safeguarding and spending the billions in U.S. funding coming its way, Washington should shut its wallet.

"We need to have the courage to withhold funding if progress is not made by the Afghan government," Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko will say in a speech he is scheduled to deliver at the New America Foundation on Wednesday, according to an advance copy provided exclusively to the E-Ring

Sopko since last summer has turned in a steady stream of reports finding millions of dollars from the Defense Department, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development going to waste. The offenses range from poorly designed and managed reconstruction projects on the U.S side to lax oversight by Afghan government offices. In the SIGAR’s latest quarterly report to Congress, Sopko trains his sights on direct foreign assistance delivered through USAID, and questions the Afghan government’s ability to maintain safeguards over the cash influx.

"And, more importantly, USAID must be willing to stop funding Afghan ministries if they do not live up to these safeguards," Sopko will say.

UPDATE: SIGAR Going After ANSF

Sopko also announced in his speech that the SIGAR for the rest of this year will focus its auditing power on measuring the state of security in Afghanistan. That mission may seem far afield from usual inspector general bean counting. But the effectiveness of any U.S. funding is dependent, Sopko said, on the U.S. effort to stand up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

"Because of SIGAR’s ongoing concerns with the ANSF," he said, "SIGAR is building a body of work to eventually answer the ultimate question – are the Afghan National Security Forces ready?"

The E-Ring reported last week that SIGAR found the ANSF was 20,000 people short of its personnel goals. "The number of troops ready for duty is even lower when you consider AWOL employees, desertions, and ghost employees," Sopko said on Wednesday.

But those numbers are a guess, at best, due to poor recordkeeping, which means the true U.S. cost for supplying, training, and maintaining Afghan forces is unknown.

"The DOD told SIGAR there is no way to validate the ANSF’s personnel numbers," he said, "often derived from reports prepared by hand by Afghan troops. It is hard to know if the afghan army and police are ready if we don’t know how many troops are available to fight insurgent forces."

Sopko also warned that next year’s parliamentary elections may prove to be no more legitimate that the last round, which was marred by fraud. Afghans have not changed their elections laws, leaving the process open to continued voter fraud, ballot box stuffing and fake voter identification cards, he alleged.

"Unless we fix problems like these before the 2014 presidential election, the Afghan people may have powerful reasons to question the results."

 

 Twitter: @FPBaron

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