U.S. Pledges Another $800M to Afghanistan Despite Rampant Corruption

A woman, who has been displaced by floods, uses a USAID box to move her belongings while taking refuge on an embankment at Chandan Mori village in Dadu, some 320 km (199 miles) north of Karachi October 10, 2010. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

President Barack Obama’s administration has pledged an additional $791 million to fund United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) nation-building programs in Afghanistan despite a recent report showing American taxpayer funds are being siphoned off by corrupt Afghan officials to fund terrorist groups such as the Taliban.

The money is intended “to help Afghanistan achieve self-reliance,” said Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance Eklil Hakimi, who signed the funding agreements during a ceremony at the Afghan presidential palace on Monday along with Herbert Smith, director of the USAID Afghanistan mission, reports Khaama Press (KP).

However, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, a top U.S. government auditor, and other experts have repeatedly argued that the billions in American taxpayer funds invested in Afghanistan have made the country more dependent on U.S. assistance.

Moreover, of the estimated $115 billion that the U.S. Congress has appropriated since the war in Afghanistan began more than 15 years ago to fund nation-building efforts, hundreds of millions have been wasted.

Nearly $9 billion of the appropriated funds have not yet been spent, recently said Sopko, noting that “more” is “on the way.” USAID’s Afghanistan mission has spent at least $17 billion on its efforts since the war started.

Smith noted that the $791 million in fresh assistance is part of a multi-year pledge that the Obama administration made at the recent Afghanistan donor’s conference in Brussels, where the United States highlighted its enduring commitment to Afghanistan.

According to his prepared remarks, SIGAR Sopko told the Syracuse University Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism last Thursday:

The U.S. government must better assess how much foreign assistance the host country can reasonably absorb without completely distorting the economy and improve our own ability to oversee and monitor that assistance. Imagine pouring water on a sponge. At some point the sponge becomes full and the water spills off to the side. In terms of foreign assistance, amounts provided that are more than 15 to 45% of a country’s annual GDP [Gross Domestic Product] is generally considered counterproductive. On multiple occasions, U.S. assistance alone equaled Afghanistan’s annual GDP, so more than double the high end of the recommendation, and was over the high end of 45% every year from 2004-2013. Combined with poor oversight and contracting practices, this was a recipe for disaster

The single most important thing the government needs to do is prioritize anti-corruption efforts – Congress needs to insist on it and hold the executive branch accountable for it; every agency involved in reconstruction must think about anti-corruption in every action they take and program they fund; and the National Security Council needs to ensure it stays a major political priority.

Last month, SIGAR reported that the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to the ongoing corruption in Afghanistan.

Corruption undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and channeling material support to the insurgency,” acknowledged the inspector general in a 150-page report released in September, adding, “U.S. money was flowing to the insurgency via corruption.”

Despite the corruption evidence recently unveiled by SIGAR, the Afghan government is expected to receive “$791 million in fresh aid… to support [USAID] programs that achieve Afghan-led, sustainable development,” reports KP.

“These agreements are a testament to the enduring partnership between the American and the Afghan people. Over the next 12-months, this funding will enable us to implement projects and deliver valued services to our citizens across Afghanistan,” declared Afghanistan’s finance minister during the ceremony Monday.

“These are some of the first practical steps we are taking to deliver on our commitments and the pledges that were made at the Brussels Conference to help Afghanistan achieve self-reliance,” Hakimi added.

Meanwhile, USAID Director Smith underscored America’s enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan and its government.

“This document reaffirms U.S. determination to support the government of Afghanistan in efforts to strengthen Afghanistan’s institutions, maintain gains in education and health services achieved in recent years, and improve the welfare of the Afghan people,” he said at the signing ceremony Monday.

“The funds obligated under the agreements will support programs that achieve strategic development objectives, including a thriving economy led by the private sector, a democratic government with broad citizen participation, and a better educated and healthier Afghan population,” reports KP.

Hakimi vowed that Afghanistan would use the money as intended and spend it on education, health, as well as developing good governance and integrity over the next four years.