US watchdog: Afghans may not be ready for ‘day after’ peace

KABUL — Afghanistan may not be ready for peace unless it formulates a strategy for re-integration of Taliban fighters into society, combating corruption and reining in the country’s runaway narcotics problem, a U.S. watchdog said Wednesday.

The warning by Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which monitors billions of dollars in U.S. aid to the country, came in the group’s new quarterly report that also discusses Afghan needs for the “day after” — once there is a peace deal with the Taliban.

Over the past months, the U.S. has stepped up efforts to find a peaceful resolution to Afghanistan’s 17-year war and has been holding talks with a resurgent Taliban. The insurgents, however, refuse to negotiate with the Kabul government, which they consider a U.S. puppet. The Taliban also continue to stage near-daily attacks, inflicting staggering casualties, and now control about half the country.

“No matter how welcome peace would be, it can carry with it the seeds of unintended and unforeseen consequences,” John F. Sopko, head of SIGAR, said in the report.

The war has already cost America nearly $1 trillion, according to Sopko. On reconstruction alone, the U.S. has spent $132 billion since 2002, much of that to train and equip Afghan security forces, as well as strengthen government institutions, provide education and better health care.

But the gains are fragile, Sopko said, and solutions are needed to the country’s increasing insecurity, “endemic corruption, weak Afghan institutions, the insidious impact of the narcotics trade, and inadequate co-ordination and oversight by donors.”

Sopko said that failure to reintegrate the estimated 60,000 Taliban fighters and their families into Afghan society would undermine peace.

“These ‘day after’ risks could threaten U.S. taxpayers’ investment in Afghanistan, set back humanitarian and development programs, undermine Afghan government support, or even lay the grounds for new or resumed discord,” Sopko said.

For some former Taliban fighters, the transition has been difficult. They blame corruption, and for those not integrated into Afghan security forces, finding a job is difficult in a country where unemployment is more than 40% per cent and 54% of Afghans live below the poverty line.

Aman, a former Taliban who left the insurgents with nine fellow fighters to join the government in late 2016 in northern Kunduz province, told The Associated Press this week that he has been jailed and intimidated by corrupt soldiers who stole $6,000 from him.

They also forced him and his fellow fighters to hand over the motorcycles and cars in which they had travelled to the Kunduz provincial capital to join government forces.

Aman, who would not give his full name fearing reprisal from both the government and the Taliban, said he sent dozens of applications to government ministries and an independent human rights commission seeking compensation but to no avail.

He now lives in a poor Kabul neighbourhood, makes little money as a porter and can’t afford to send his children to school, Aman said. He can’t go back to his home in Khanabad district in Kunduz, where the Taliban rule.

“At first they told us we did not have to worry, nobody would touch us,” Aman recounts his attempt to joint government forces in Kunduz. But instead the soldiers bound them, told their commanders they had captured Taliban fighters, and threw them in jail.

After more than five months in jail, Aman was able to convince authorities of his innocence and win his release.

SIGAR’s report also said that the U.S. military in Afghanistan no longer tracks areas of control by the government and by the insurgents, without offering an explanation for the change. Previous reports had said nearly half of Afghanistan is under the control or influence of the Taliban.

“While the data did not, on its own, indicate the success or failure . . . it did contribute to an overall understanding of the situation in the country,” Sopko said.

Sopko said the U.S. Department of Defence estimates it will cost $6.5 billion to finance Afghanistan’s security needs in 2019 — $4.9 billion of which will be paid by the U.S. The rest will be funded by other donor countries.

Yet the Afghan military and police forces continue to experience high rates of desertion, the report said.

A program to train Afghan pilots in the U.S. on AC-208 light attack and surveillance aircraft was suspended after 40% of the trainees disappeared in America, SIGAR said. The remaining pilots were returned to Afghanistan to complete their training.

The report also highlighted widespread shortages of food in the country, saying that “most Afghan households faced acute food insecurity” in March — a level of desperation that drives some parents to sell their children or force them into childhood marriages, SIGAR said.

In addition, it said the Afghan government is ill-equipped to meet its needs and can barely cover 30% of its budget, with the rest coming from foreign donors.

Published at Wed, 01 May 2019 05:30:23 +0000

 

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is the U.S. government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction. Congress created the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to provide independent and objective oversight of the Afghanistan Reconstruction funds. Under the authority of Section 1229 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (PL 110-181), SIGAR conducts audit, inspections, and investigations to promote efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction programs, and to detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. SIGAR also has a hotline that allows individuals to report suspected fraud.[1]

SIGAR’s mission is to “promote economy and efficiency of U.S.-funded reconstruction programs in Afghanistan and to detect and deter fraud, waste, and abuse by conducting independent, objective, and strategic audits, inspections, and investigations”.

Quarterly reports

Public Law 110-181 directs SIGAR to submit a quarterly report to Congress.[2] This congressionally-mandated report summarizes SIGAR’s audits and investigative activities. The report also provides an overview of reconstruction activities in Afghanistan and includes a detailed statement of all obligations, expenditures, and revenues associated with reconstruction.[3]

As part of its legislative mandate, SIGAR tracks the status of U.S. funds appropriated, obligated, and disbursed for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan in the Quarterly Report. As of September 30, 2014, the United States had appropriated approximately $104.08 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. These funds have been allocated into four major areas:[4]

  • $61.54 billion for security ($4.07 billion for counternarcotics initiatives)
  • $30.65 billion for governance and development ($3.69 billion for counternarcotics initiatives)
  • $2.89 billion for humanitarian aid
  • $9.00 billion for civilian operations

History

John F. Sopko at the Atlantic Council2014

Inspector General: In 2012, President Barack Obama selected John F. Sopko to serve as the Special Inspector General. Mr. Sopko has more than 30 years of experience in oversight and investigations as a prosecutor, congressional counsel and senior federal government advisor. He came to SIGAR from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, an international law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., where he had been a partner since 2009. Mr. Sopko’s government experience includes over 20 years on Capitol Hill, where he held key positions in both the Senate and House of Representatives. He served on the staffs of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Select Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The Inspector General post was previously held by Steve Trent (acting), Herb Richardson (acting), and Arnold Fields.

Since being appointed Mr. Sopko has testified multiple times before Congress on behalf of SIGAR.[5][6]

Deputy Inspector General: Gene Aloise joined SIGAR on September 4, 2012, as the Deputy Inspector General, he oversees day-to-day operations and assists the Inspector General in executing SIGAR’s mission. Mr. Aloise came to SIGAR from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), where he served for 38 years. He has years of experience developing, leading, and managing GAO domestic and international work. His experience includes assignments with congressional committees as well as various offices within GAO.

Staffing and locations

According to the organization’s October 2014 Report to Congress, SIGAR employed 197 federal employees. The report noted that SIGAR has 29 employees at the U.S. Embassy Kabul and eight other employees in Afghan locations outside the U.S. Embassy. SIGAR staff members were stationed at four locations across the country, including Kandahar and Bagram Airfields, Mazar-i-Sharif, and the U.S. Embassy Kabul. SIGAR employed three local Afghans in its Kabul office to support the Investigations and Audits directorates.

Recognitions

  • In October 2014, Over two dozen staffers of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), were recognized for outstanding achievements at the 17th Annual Inspector General Community awards ceremony. The awards included the Sentner award, two awards for audit excellence and two awards for excellence special act.[7]
  • In October 2012, SIGAR Audit and Investigative Teams won CIGIE Awards for Excellence. The awards included the Sentner award, an award for audit excellence and an investigation award for excellence.[8]
  • In May 2012, SIGAR special agents received a Public Service Award today from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia for their work in a major bribery case in Afghanistan.
  • In October 2011 a SIGAR audit team was presented the Sentner Award for Dedication and Courage for its work in Laghman Province auditing the Commander’s Emergency Response Program.
  • In October 2011 another SIGAR team won an Award for Excellence for its audit of Afghan National Security Force facilities.[9]

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) recognition & assistance

SIGAR, and its reports,findings and information, have also been widely discussed and distributed on Capitol Hill, the US Congress and with U.S. policymakers, by the Washington, D.C.-based Afghanistan Foundation, a non-profit public policy research organization (NGO). SIGAR’s efforts have helped educated and inform policymakers in public policy research organizations, and think tanks, about issues regarding U.S. assistance programs, aid levels, and various projects, in Afghanistan, including problems of corruption in Afghanistan, the Kabul Bank crisis and other important matters.[10]