John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction while addressing a meeting themed “Lessons from Afghanistan’s Reconstruction: 2001-2019” at the United States Naval Academy Annapolis, Maryland on January 17, 2019 remarked about his work as SIGAR and the key takeaways.
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He pointed that U.S. has provided over $132 billion for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, a number that does not include the significantly higher cost of war-fighting, which the Pentagon estimates to have cost as much as $800 billion.
He noted three shortcomings in the US’s plan or enforcement of reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Firstly, he said that U.S. agencies are very good at measuring inputs and also good at measuring outputs; but he noted that “agencies generally do a poor job of measuring outcomes, which is how one judges whether a program or project was successful or not.”
Secondly, he listed that “Another common theme we’ve identified in Afghanistan is a lack of coordination within our own government, with the Afghans, and with other governments during the course of the reconstruction effort”.
Thirdly, Sopko stressed on a bigger impediment-Corruption- which according to him “ has severely hampered the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, and will be present in every other fragile state you will be working in. Several years ago, John Allen, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, testified before Congress that the existential threat to Afghanistan was not the Taliban, but was, in fact, corruption.”
He expressed that “The injection of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy by international donors led by the United States, combined with the limited ability of the Afghan government to responsibly expend funds, poor donor oversight and contracting practices, and institutional incentives to spend money, quickly increased corruption.Corruption has also negatively affected the battlefield performance of the Afghan security forces.”
Sopko conceded staying “Eighteen years into a reconstruction effort that many of you may be too young to remember the start of, we have learned that reconstruction is a difficult undertaking. Failing to measure outcomes impairs our ability to measure impact. Lack of coordination and accountability threatens project success and often ends up wasting taxpayer funds, and in the process erodes public support. And corruption imperils the entire effort and creates both American and Afghan skeptics. We can learn a great deal from Afghanistan, but what we do with these lessons is up to us, and especially you, as you assume your role as the next generation of national security leaders.”