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The Money Pit: Watchdog chronicles $19 billion wasted in Afghan reconstruction effort

In a blistering new report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has documented billions in aid dollars spent "carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose."

Updated: November 1, 2020 - 6:26am

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The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just the News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The ward is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s. 

This week, our award is going to the U.S. government at large for wasting $19 billion in its efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion of the Islamic nation to destroy Al-Qaeda and defeat the Taliban.

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Congress has appropriated $134 billion for the reconstruction of the country. In October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a new report, detailing where some of that money has gone over the past nearly two decades.

Of the total amount spent, SIGAR reviewed about $63 billion spent on projects in the region, nearly 30% (or $19 billion) of which was classified as waste, fraud, and abuse. In the 19-page report, the special inspector general describes the way money has been spent in Afghanistan as "carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose."

Instances of outlandish waste in the latest report include a never-used sports stadium that was funded by U.S. taxpayers. It is useless to the people of Afghanistan, not only because it was not constructed in a way conducive to playing games of soccer, but also because it does not have a functioning irrigation system. The report also details sloppy workmanship throughout the stadium, including ceilings that are falling apart, ineffective drainage grates, and a playing field that is literally uneven.

Added to all of that, the SIGAR report found that "the facility and grounds suffered damage because the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) used the stadium as a base for military operations during a heavy period of fighting against Taliban forces from April to June 2017."

In a section of the report dedicated to fraud, SIGAR describes cases of theft, corruption, and flagrant bribery of government employees. The report identifies more than $296 million in contract fraud. Examples include contractors defrauding the U.S. Central Command on food service deals, and a translator with the U.S. Special Forces paying bribes to U.S. service members to assist him in procuring contracts for his trucking company.

And it all could have been worse, according to the SIGAR: The report claims that the work of the office of the special inspector general has saved American taxpayers $3.2 billion that may otherwise have been spent on the effort to rebuild the region over the years.

The report is unsparing in its conclusion about U.S. reconstruction spending in Afghanistan: "Endemic corruption, widespread insecurity, and lack of accountability over on-budget assistance continue to make any investments made in Afghanistan vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse and may threaten the peace process as well as the perceived legitimacy and effectiveness of the Afghan government."

 

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