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SIGAR, John Sopko: U.S. Efforts In Afghanistan Overshadowed By Widespread Corruption

September 14, 2016

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, issued a report titled, “Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan” (.pdf file) on the widespread corruption that is plaguing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.  The 164 page report is a first in a series of “lessons learned” studies SIGAR plans to issue highlighting how the Department of Defense, Treasury Department, Justice Department and U.S. Agency for International Development dealt with the widespread corruption in Afghanistan and how these lessons can be utilized to prevent future problems in foreign relations operations.

Not only did the report state that the United States contributed to the growth of the corruption, but it also basically did nothing to stop it as billions of U.S. dollars continue to flow into the country and its economy.  

SIGAR chief John Sopko writes in the report’s introduction:

“I believe the lessons learned reports will be a key legacy of SIGAR. Through these reports, we hope to reach a diverse audience in the legislative and executive branches, at strategic and programmatic levels, both in Washington, D.C. and in the field. By leveraging our unique interagency mandate, we intend to do everything we can to make sure the lessons from the United States’ largest reconstruction effort are identified, acknowledged, and, most importantly, remembered and applied to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, as well as to future conflicts and reconstruction efforts elsewhere in the world.”

From the SIGAR report:

“Our analysis reveals that corruption substantially undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan from the very beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. We found that corruption cut across all aspects of the reconstruction effort, jeopardizing progress made in security, rule of law, governance, and economic growth. We conclude that failure to effectively address the problem means U.S. reconstruction programs, at best, will continue to be subverted by systemic corruption and, at worst, will fail.”

The report lists five main findings detrimental to forward progress:

  1. Corruption undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and channeling material support to the insurgency.
  2. The United States contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting  tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers.
  3. The U.S. government was slow to recognize the magnitude of the problem, the role of corrupt patronage networks, the ways in which corruption threatened core U.S. goals, and that certain U.S. policies and practices exacerbated the problem.
  4. Even when the United States acknowledged corruption as a strategic threat, security and political goals consistently trumped strong anticorruption actions.
  5. Where the United States sought to combat corruption, its efforts saw only limited success in the absence of sustained Afghan and U.S. political commitment.

This report comes on the heels of the Taliban making significant gains over the last few months, especially in the hotly contested Helmand Province as well as President Obama sending in more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.