- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
The government barely controls half its country, hundreds of thousands have fled their homes due to conflict and opium production is at a historic high in Afghanistan. That’s just a glimpse of Afghanistan’s spiral of dysfunction, compiled by the U.S. government watchdog that oversees the billions of dollars the United States pours into Afghanistan each year.
In a new quarterly report to Congress released Wednesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) office, John Sopko, outlined a stark backslide in progress in Afghanistan — a country the United States has sunk over $117 billion in since 2002.
Just over a week into his new administration, President Donald Trump hasn’t solidified his foreign policy priorities outside of boosting military spending and defeating ISIS. But in Afghanistan, Trump is inheriting a costly and messy conflict from his two predecessors, as the SIGAR report shows.
Among the most damning aspects of the SIGAR report:
The Afghan government had 57.2 percent of the country under its control by the end of 2016 — a 6.3 percent decrease from 2015. That doesn’t bode well, given the number of Afghan security forces is decreasing while its casualties are increasing.
583,000 people fled their homes due to conflict in 2016. SIGAR added that that is “the highest number of displacements since record keeping started in 2008.”
Some 23 percent of the 8,397 conflict-related casualties in Afghanistan were attributed to Afghan security forces and the U.S.-led coalition.
Afghan opium production rose 43 percent from 2015 levels. Afghan opium bankrolls the Taliban and other insurgent groups. And it’s the country’s largest export; 90 percent of the world’s opium came from Afghanistan in 2014 alone.
There were 3 million fewer students actually attending classes in Afghanistan than previously thought. The Afghan Ministry of Education had to strikes the number of students attending classes down to 6 million; some students simply don’t show up, others cannot because of conflict or school closures. Security concerns closed more than 1,000 schools down around the country.
SIGAR suspended and disbarred U.S. funded projects due to corruption, fraud, or poor management, valued at over $137 million in 2016 alone. U.S.-funded projects have a sordid history of mismanagement; the U.S. government squandered nearly half a billion dollars on Afghan mining projects through 2016.
Nearly every trend line is going in the wrong direction — with one notable exception: procurement reform. The Afghan government’s efforts to fight corruption and reform its procurement processes saved $200 million that may have otherwise been lost to corruption, the SIGAR report said.
Sopko added a personal warning in the report to the new Trump administration. “Unfortunately in the nearly five years I’ve been traveling to Afghanistan, I first witnessed the United States put in way too much, way too fast,” he said. “More recently, I’ve watched the U.S. remove way too much, way too fast. Policy makers both in Congress and the new Trump Administration should take note of this,” he said.
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