Giving Thanks, Ghani Pledges to Curb Corruption in Afghanistan
Turning the page in relations with the U.S., Afghan president praises American military sacrifices and promises to not let them go to waste.
This story has been updated.
After more than 13 years of war, nearly $1 trillion dollars spent, 2,215 American troops killed, and another 20,000 wounded, the United States is getting a “thank you” from Afghanistan.
In remarks Monday at the Pentagon, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pledged that all the United States has invested in his war-torn homeland would not go to waste. He promised to put an end to rampant corruption across Afghanistan, which U.S. watchdogs have warned is among the greatest obstacles to reconstruction.
Kabul “is committed to account for every single one of those dollars and pennies,” spent by the U.S. taxpayer, Ghani said in his first public appearance since arriving in Washington on Sunday.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced later in the day, after a full day of discussions at Camp David, a new initiative to “promote Afghan self-reliance,” in which $800 million in U.S. aid would be contingent upon the Afghan government making a series of reforms.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States would seek funding — roughly $4 billion annually — to keep the Afghan security forces at a target strength of 352,000 through fiscal year 2017. The security forces are not at that size today due to attrition.
Ghani stressed that under his watch, Afghanistan would strive for greater independence.
“We are not going to be a burden,” he said, noting the importance of creating sustainable systems that Afghans will be able to run for decades to come.
Hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars have been wasted due to corruption or have simply gone missing over the years, according to the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR). Moreover, according to Transparency International, the only countries more corrupt than Afghanistan in 2014 were Somalia, North Korea, and Sudan.
The SIGAR is also worried that Afghanistan’s inability to sustain projects — from paying for its security forces to maintaining roads — will threaten to unravel the gains made over the last 13 years.
Today, the Afghan economy is hugely dependent on foreign aid. It only raised about 30 percent of its 2014 budget internally, with the rest coming from foreign donors. The International Monetary Fund expects the funding gap between domestic revenue and operating expenses to remain at about $7.7 billion through 2018.
During his trip to Washington this week, Ghani is expected to discuss with President Barack Obama potential adjustments to the timeline for U.S. troops to leave the country. Ghani has made it known that he would like more U.S. troops to stay in his country longer than currently planned.
But in his speech Monday, he said the original time limits Obama posed on the U.S. troop surge in 2009 were helpful, because they provided clarity.
Mostly, Ghani just wanted to say: Thank you.
“Thank you on behalf of a grateful nation to people in this building, and the larger U.S. community, who have sacrificed continuously since September 11 to bring us freedom and hope,” he said to U.S. troops and defense officials gathered in the Pentagon courtyard.
Sitting in the audience was retired Army Col. Susan Myers, who is the widow of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene. The most senior U.S. military official killed in Afghanistan and the first general officer killed in an overseas attack since Vietnam, Greene was fatally shot last August by an Afghan military policeman.
Ghani told Myers he would name a section at an Afghan military academy after her husband to honor his memory.
He said he hoped U.S. veterans of the war would one day return to Afghanistan with their families as tourists.
“Come back to us in some years and in that moment, millions of us will be able to say thank you to each one of you personally, shake your hands, and invite you to our homes,” he said.
His message of thanks is intended to usher in a new era of cooperation between Afghanistan and the United States, with the aim of finally putting to rest the complicated and acrimonious days of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
After spending Monday at Camp David with Kerry, Carter, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Ghani plans to meet with Obama on Tuesday at the White House.
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