‘Limited progress’ for $500 million US reconstruction project in Afghanistan – watchdog

© Guadalupe Pardo
Flawed infrastructure, unprepared projects, and corruption were all inhibiting factors in the development of Afghan resources, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported Thursday, reviewing some $488 million spent.

The SIGAR report found that the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) are failing to accomplish their collective mission – funded by nearly half billion dollars since 2009 – to develop the “extractive” industry in Afghanistan. The inspector general found that the failures were the result of a combination of circumstances both within and outside the agencies’ control.

Afghanistan’s minerals, natural gas, and oil resources are estimated to be worth $1 trillion and extracting them could drive multi-billion dollar revenue streams for the Afghan government, SIGAR reported.

Though the SIGAR analysis pointed out corruption in the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, it also noted both the TFBSO and USAID devised programs that overestimated the Afghans’ capacity to carry them out. SIGAR made the same observation in its 2015 report, according to Pro Publica.

Many times when a form of the word “success” appeared in the SIGAR report, it was preceded by other words such as “partially,” “mixed,” or “some,” unless it was followed by “however” or “but.”

While TFBSO spent $215 million on 11 extractive programs, it “left with nearly all of its extractive projects incomplete,” the SIGAR report said. One of the three efforts considered a technical success based on objectives was the construction of a natural gas station. However, SIGAR reported in October 2015 that the project, which cost US taxpayers $43 million, could have been built for approximately $300,000.

A lack of suitable roads is one of the fundamental infrastructure problems preventing further mining development in Afghanistan. Of the mines in operation, many are illegal and benefiting the country’s insurgents and Taliban, the SIGAR report said.

In addition, the Pentagon task force spent $46.5 million lobbying companies to come and develop the “extractives,” but did not end up with a single signed contract to show for it. SIGAR estimated that the $122 million spent by the TFBSO had rendered “mixed results.”

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support is scheduled to hold a hearing on the TFBSO on January 20. Composed mostly of civilian experts, the Pentagon task force is expected to face questions over its bizarre and extravagant demands, as well as its treatment of whistleblower Colonel John C. Hope, who claims he was punished for speaking out against wasteful spending in Afghanistan.

In response to the report, USAID said the criticisms of its efforts “need to be substantially tempered by the reality that mining is a long-term endeavor,” according to Pro Publica.

At the end of the SIGAR report, the inspector general wrote, “DOD did not comment on the findings or other contents of the draft report and instead directed us to a RAND Corporation lessons learned study of TFBSO that does not address the issues discussed by this audit. USAID concurred with both recommendations.”