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Hundreds of billions of US dollars “wasted” in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: October 12, 2021)

A catalog of “waste, fraud and abuse” reports made against the United States’ reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have been “temporarily” removed from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) website.

In an expose by CNN, a US State Department spokesperson told CNN they had asked SIGAR to “temporarily” remove the reports, owing “to safety and security concerns regarding our ongoing evacuation efforts.” The spokesperson added SIGAR had the authority to restore them “when it deems appropriate.”

These reports, published for years on a quarterly basis, gave insight into the abuse and wastage of funds provided by the US government over 20 years.

The in-depth audits detailing these findings have, for the most part, been taken offline, despite having been widely promoted on social media platforms almost weekly for the past few years.

The total cost of the war, according to the Pentagon, was $825 billion, a low-end estimate: even President Joe Biden has cited an estimate that put the amount at over double that — more than $2 trillion, a figure that factors in long-term costs such as veterans’ care. The interest on the debt runs into hundreds of billions already, CNN reported.

However, the $145 billion reconstruction effort lacked oversight, leading Congress to set up SIGAR in 2008.

In their expose, CNN detailed 10 notable cases, stripped of identifying details on SIGAR’s website. The reports had however been collated by CNN over the years.

The cases are as follows:

1) The Tarakhil power plant project that was commissioned in 2007 as a backup generator for the capital, in case electricity supply from Uzbekistan was compromised.

A vast, modern structure, it ran on diesel-fueled turbines, supplied by a brand-name engineering giant. There was one catch: Afghanistan had scant diesel supply of its own and had to ship the fuel in by truck — making the plant too expensive to run, CNN reported.

The facility itself cost $335 million to build, and had an estimated annual fuel cost of $245 million. The most recent SIGAR assessment said at best it was used at just 2.2% capacity, as the Afghan government could not afford the fuel. USAID declined to comment.

2) A half-billion-dollar fleet of cargo planes that flew for a year ended up being sold as scrap.

In 2008, Afghanistan’s fledgling air force needed cargo planes and the Pentagon chose the G222 — an Italian-designed aircraft designed to take off and land on rough runways.

That first year, according to a speech made by SIGAR’s chief John Sopko, citing a USAF officer, the planes were very busy.

But they would not be sustainable. The aircraft were only noticed by SIGAR when Sopko noticed them parked at Kabul airport and asked what they were doing there.

Six years after the procurement was launched, the 16 aircraft delivered to Afghanistan were sold for scrap for $40,257. The cost of the project totaled $549 million.

3) A $36 million Marines HQ in the desert was neither wanted nor used, Sopko said in a speech, but this 64,000-square foot control center in Helmand cost $36 million to build in 2010 and was never used. Sopko recalled the base commander and two other marine generals said it was not needed as it would not be completed fast enough but said the thought of returning the funds to Congress “was so abhorrent to the contracting command, it was built anyway. The facility was never occupied, Camp Leatherneck was turned over to the Afghans, who abandoned it.”

4) In 2007, $28 million was spent on a new camouflage pattern for army uniforms for the Afghans. A total of 1.3 million sets were ordered costing $43 to $80 each, as opposed to $25 to $30 originally estimated for replacement uniforms.

The uniforms were never tested or evaluated in the field, and Sopko said it cost taxpayers an extra $28 million to buy the uniforms with a patented pattern.

SIGAR projected in 2017 a different choice of pattern could have saved a potential $72 million over the next decade.

5) The US spent $1.5 million a day on counter-narcotics programs (from 2002 to 2018). Opium production was, according to the last SIGAR report, up in 2020 by 37% compared to the year before. This was the third-highest yield since records began in 1994.

In 2017, production was four times what it was in 2002. A State department spokesperson noted “the Taliban (IEA) have been the primary factor contributing to poppy’s persistence in recent years” and “that the Taliban (IEA) have committed to banning narcotics.”

6) An extensive ring road around Afghanistan was funded by multiple grants and donors, totaling billions during the course of the war. Towards the end of the project, a 233-kilometer section in the North, between the towns of Qeysar and Laman, led to $249 million being handed out to contractors, but only 15% of the road was being built, a SIGAR audit reported.

Between March 2014 and September 2017, there was no construction on this section, and what had been built deteriorated, the report concluded. USAID declined to comment.

7) An extensive hotel and apartment complex was commissioned next to the US Embassy in Kabul, for which the US government provided $85 million in loans.

In 2016, SIGAR concluded “the $85 million in loans is gone, the buildings were never completed and are uninhabitable, and the U.S. Embassy was forced to provide security for the site at additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.”

The audit concluded the contractor made unrealistic promises to secure the loans, and that the branch of the US government who oversaw the project never visited the site, and neither did the company they later hired to oversee the project. A State department spokesperson said they did not manage the construction and it was “a private endeavor.”

8) The Pentagon created the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) expanded from Iraq to include Afghanistan in 2009, for whose operations in Afghanistan Congress set aside $823 million.

Over half the money actually spent by TFBSO — $359 million of $675 million — was “spent on indirect and support costs, not directly on projects in Afghanistan,” SIGAR concluded in an audit.

They reviewed 89 of the contracts TFBSO made, and found “seven contracts worth $35.1 million were awarded to firms employing former TFBSO staff as senior executives.”

An audit also concluded that the fund spent about $6 million on supporting the cashmere industry, $43 million on a compressed natural gas station, and $150 million on high-end villas for its staff.

9) A 2015 report into USAID’s funding of healthcare facilities in Afghanistan said that over a third of the 510 projects they had been given coordinates for, did not exist in those locations. Thirteen were “not located in Afghanistan, with one located in the Mediterranean Sea.” Thirty “were located in a province different from the one USAID reported.”

And “189 showed no physical structure within 400 feet of the reported coordinates. Just under half of these locations showed no physical structure within a half mile of the reported coordinates.”

The audit said that USAID and the Afghan ministry of Public Health could only provide “oversight of these facilities [if they] know where they are.” USAID declined to comment.

10) At least $19 billion lost to “waste, fraud, abuse”

An October 2020 report presented a startling total for the war. Congress at the time had appropriated $134 billion since 2002 for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

SIGAR was able to review $63 billion of it — nearly half. They concluded $19 billion of that — almost a third — was “lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.”

DoD spokesman Lodewick told CNN they and “several other U.S. Government departments and agencies are already on record as having challenged some of these reports as inaccurate and misleading” and that their conclusions “appeared to overlook the difference between reconstruction efforts that may have been mismanaged willfully/negligently and those efforts that, at the time of the report, simply had fallen short of strategic goals.”

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Bayat Foundation provides much needed food parcels to Balkh residents

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

Hundreds of poverty-stricken families in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, were given food parcels on Sunday in a drive by the organization to help desperate families ahead of winter.

Committed to helping the hungry, Bayat Foundation has so far sent hundreds of packages that include rice, flour and oil, to the destitute in Kandahar, Herat and now Balkh.

According to foundation officials, they are working as fast as possible to provide the essential food items to people before winter sets in.

“The Bayat Foundation continues to provide assistance to the deserving and displaced people. We have already distributed aid to people in Kandahar and Herat and today we have distributed in Mazar-e-Sharif,” said Haji Mohammad Ismail, Deputy Chairman of the Bayat Foundation.

Bayat Foundation has carried out comprehensive assessments in these areas to identify recipients in urgent need of help.

“Based on the Bayat Foundation’s survey results, we are distributing foodstuff for really deserving people,” said Yafes Saqeb, Head of Bayat Foundation in Balkh.

Recipients of the food parcels welcomed the foundation’s initiative and said a large percentage of local families are facing serious financial problems.

“People don’t have food. We welcome their assistance and want them to continue their help,” said Abdul Ghafar, a resident.

“In this dangerous time that people are living in, hungry, we really welcome the assistance. We want them to continue with this assistance,” said Mohammad Baqer, another resident.

“There is no work. Women have problems, and can’t leave [their homes]. We are grateful to them and hope they carry on helping us,” said Shakela, another resident.
Bayat Foundation officials have said they will continue to provide food parcels and hope to reach as many people across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan families are desperate amid a looming humanitarian crisis following the abrupt end to foreign financial aid and the freezing of Afghanistan’s assets by the US.

Families have been hit hard by the unexpected withdrawal of foreign organizations, diplomatic missions as well as the withdrawal of US troops.

Together these entities employed hundreds of thousands of people both directly and indirectly – people who now have no income. In addition to this, the 300,000 former security force members, who were paid by the US, are also now unemployed and penniless.

Afghanistan’s winters are particularly harsh, and given the collapsing economy, Afghans are extremely worried about what lies ahead.

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MoD to form a new, independent national army

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials said Saturday that they will establish a new army that is independent in order to defend Afghanistan’s territory and airspace.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, acting minister of defense and son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, founder of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), said in a voice clip on Sunday that efforts are being made to safeguard Afghanistan’s territory and airspace.

“We intend to create a national and independent army under MoD to defend the country with high values. We will attempt to equip the IEA army with modern weapons. The army should have ground and airspace capabilities,” said Mullah Yaqoob.

The acting minister assured the international community and countries in the region that no one will be allowed to use Afghanistan terrority to carry out attacks against them.

“Countries in the world know that an army is impossible without foreign assistance. The world should help Afghanistan in this regard,” said Mohammad Sarwar Naizai, a military analyst.

The caretaker minister did not however provide further details about how the IEA will finance the army or whether it will include soldiers from the former government.

The previous Western-backed government paid the salaries of the then soldiers with money from the United States. On August 15, when former president Ashraf Ghani and all his top officials fled the country, the US and NATO-trained army and airforce disintegrated within hours.

The same day, IEA forces rolled into Kabul and took over as the new rulers. However, the foreign donor community and the US immediately cut off financial aid to Afghanistan and froze all the central bank’s foreign reserves – cutting off salaries to hundreds of thousands of former soldiers and government workers.

Some IEA officials meanwhile said that former government soldiers will be brought back into the army.

“We have left the way open for those people who were in security institutions in the former government. Some of them have returned already,” said Qari Saeed Khosti, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs.

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Pakistan denies reports it struck deal with US on Afghanistan operations

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied a media report which claimed that the two countries are “nearing a formalised agreement” to give Washington access to Pakistan’s airspace for operations in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has denied it struck a deal to allow the US to use its airspace for military and intelligence operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

“No such understanding is in place,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said in a statement on Saturday in response to media reports.

“Pakistan and the US have longstanding cooperation on regional security and counterterrorism and the two sides remain engaged in regular consultations.”

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said earlier this year that “there is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not.”

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