EXCLUSIVE: $5 billion for Afghans still unspent

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EXCLUSIVE:

As the U.S. prepares to send more money and troops to Afghanistan, investigators are reviewing why $5 billion in previously appropriated aid has not been fully spent, how money meant for short-term humanitarian projects was diverted to road building and why Afghan police received inadequate training.

U.S. personnel involved in oversight, Afghan officials and documents made available to The Washington Times show that the problems began or intensified from 2005 to 2007, when Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry - President Obama’s choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan - commanded U.S. and NATO forces in the country. Gen. Eikenberry faces confirmation hearings on Thursday.

The issues raised are reminiscent of those that troubled the U.S. mission in Iraq. But unlike in Iraq, only in the past year has a body been created to investigate. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is led by retired Marine Gen. Arnold Fields, who is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

“Afghanistan is a critical front in the ongoing battle against Taliban and al Qaeda extremists, and there is no place for waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money in such an important endeavor,” committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, told The Times.

Mr. Skelton said his committee “established the SIGAR to help prevent misuse of Afghanistan reconstruction funds” and expects the oversight body to “demand answers to any allegation of waste, fraud or abuse in Afghanistan and throughout the defense budget.”

The need for scrutiny over U.S. spending will intensify as more U.S. troops surge into Afghanistan, with at least 60,000 expected to be serving there by the end of August. The Obama administration also is preparing to inject more civilian personnel and money for construction and development, as well as for training Afghan soldiers and police.

According to interviews and documents reviewed by the Times:

• Of $32 billion in aid appropriated for Afghanistan, $5.625 billion has not been fully disbursed. The problem of “unexpended” funds rose sharply after 2005, according to a SIGAR report to Congress in January.

• Commanders’ Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds, are supposed to be used by the military to fund short-term projects such as clinics, were diverted to road building and other long-term capital spending. Of $700 million in CERP funds, only $3 million has been audited.

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• Afghan police were trained for paramilitary rather than law enforcement duties, and figures were inflated for those capably trained and on active duty. Afghan specialists have said repeatedly that one reason for the resurgence of the Taliban is the fact that Afghan police are corrupt and do not pursue criminals.

• Gen. Eikenberry in 2006 failed to provide full and unfettered access to information and locations for a Defense Department team to conduct a full audit and inspection of some projects.

Gen. Fields, in an e-mail to The Times, said his organization on Feb. 18 asked U.S. government agencies “to provide explanations on why there are billions of dollars of appropriated funds that have not been fully disbursed.”

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