A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has criticized the U.S. rebuilding effort in Afghanistan, saying most of the infrastructure projects funded for that country in fiscal year 2011 are behind schedule and don't include adequate measures to ensure the projects can continue and stay in place for the long term.
The special IG, John F. Sopko, wrote in the July 30 report, “More than 10 years after international intervention in Afghanistan—and nearly nine years since the U.S. government began focusing efforts to build Afghanistan’s infrastructure—the U.S. government, the international community, and the Afghan government continue to face challenges in implementing programs to build basic infrastructure, particularly those efforts aimed at providing power to the largest cities and the most critical areas in Afghanistan.”
The Dept. of Defense strongly disagreed with the report's conclusions. DOD said in a statement that the SIGAR's assessment was "premature and lacks a clear understanding of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and the integrated civil-military strategy for Afghanistan." As a reasult, the department said, the report's findings are "unduly negative."
The reconstruction effort has been plagued with problems since its inception nearly a decade ago. The former SIGAR, Arnold Fields, was forced to resign in January 2011 amid congressional criticism that he was not providing effective oversight over the billions of dollars allocated for the reconstruction program.
The report, Sopko's first since his May 2012 appointment, showed that most fiscal 2011 projects funded under DOD's Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund (AIF) are behind schedule and may not achieve their intended purpose, at least in the short term.
DOD and the State Dept. requested that $357 million, or 89% of the $400 million appropriated to the AIF, be directed to power-sector projects. As of Feb. 15, the report said, only two of the seven fiscal 2011 AIF projects were under contract and five projects were six to 15 months behind schedule. Moreover, the State Dept. and U.S. Agency for International Development did not calculate sustainment costs or otherwise ensure the long-range viability of the projects, the SIGAR wrote.
“If the U.S. government considers the execution of large-scale infrastructure projects—particularly in the energy sector—a priority of U.S. investment in Afghanistan, more effort must be made toward joint implementation by U.S. government agencies; coordination with the Afghan government and international community; and development of realistic, achievable and clearly defined sustainment plans,” the report concluded.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the contracting oversight subcommittee, praised the July 30 report. “This report underscores the importance of having an aggressive Inspector General in place to confront waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars head-on,” she said.
McCaskill was pivotal in Fields' ouster in 2011. She also introduced legislation last year to strip funds for large-scale construction projects in Afghanistan and redirect those resources—at least $800 million—for constructing roads and bridges in the U.S. That legislation is not expected to advance this year, however.