Six Years and $17 Billion Wasted in Afghanistan

Peter Van Buren, January 28, 2016

What did you get for Christmas these last six years?

The U.S. government was nice enough to gift our loyal friends the Afghans $17 billion of your tax money, and, in the true spirit of giving, asked nothing in return for itself.

What that means in actual dollars and nonsense is that the U.S. government wasted $17 billion in taxpayer money in Afghanistan on various projects that never made it off the ground or were doomed to fail because of incompetence or lack of maintenance, according to a new report.

ProPublica looked at over 200 audits conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over the last six years and tallied up the costs for the wide range of failed efforts to reach the $17 billion price tag. This greatest hits study only scratched the surface of the estimated $110 billion spent to rebuild the country (the U.S. spent some $47 billion in rebuilding Iraq, and how’d that work out?)

The new study touches on only the most egregious examples of waste, including:

  • $8 million to end Afghanistan’s drug trade, which is flourishing today as never before;
  • $2 billion for roads that the Afghan government is unlikely to maintain due to lack of funds and security concerns;
  • $1 billion for unrealized criminal justice reform efforts;
  • $936 million for aircraft that can’t be maintained;
  • $486 million for cargo planes that can’t fly;
  • $470 million on the Afghan Police;
  • $43 million for a gas station that doesn’t work.

The timing of the report couldn’t be better. The chief of the watchdog office is slated to appear before a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel shortly after lawmakers return from their extended holiday break.

That January 20 hearing was originally set to scrutinize only the work of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which spent $700-$800 million (no one knows the exact amount) on economic redevelopment in Afghanistan, as well as $150 million on villas and private security for the group’s staffers. The agenda will now likely expand to a whole-of-government waste review.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.