- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

For U.S. taxpayers, post-withdrawal Afghanistan could become another Iraq when it comes to declining security and wasted international aid, lawmakers warned Tuesday.

As the amount of fiscal aid the U.S. has provided to Afghanistan surpasses $100 billion, members of Congress were openly wondering if the Obama administration “has learned its lessons from Iraq” on stopping so much of the money from being lost to incompetence and graft, said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Inspector general reports of the Afghan reconstruction effort paint “a grim picture of the United States’ inability to conduct such endeavors on this large a scale,” the Florida Republican, a former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “And the end result was a waste of nearly $8 billion in taxpayer dollars lost to waste, fraud, abuse and a lack of accountability.”

The warning came on the same day that extremists affiliated with al Qaeda seized control of most of Mosul, a large city in northern Iraq and the biggest battlefield victory for extremists since the U.S. withdrawal ordered by Mr. Obama. The quick collapse of the Baghdad government’s security forces in the Mosul fighting raised questions on Capitol Hill on U.S. security and reconstruction efforts there.

The major U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan planned for later this year “is going to place a signification demand on the Afghan security forces,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Kinzinger, who said he was in Mosul several times during his service, said the U.S. needs to make certain the Afghan people can fend for themselves once international support withdraws.

“In 13 years, we fought to create an environment that they can get over, and I want to make sure at the end of the day that we’re not just rushing to fulfill a campaign promise” to withdraw U.S. troops, he said. “In 20 years, history books will judge us very harshly if that’s the case.”

The U.S. government’s top investigator for Afghanistan, John F. Sopko, told the committee there was hope that the Afghan National Security Forces could hold their own, as they have done on several occasions. But he cited testimony by Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. in March warning that, without a continued U.S. presence, the country could collapse and allow extremists to rebuild.

The financial situation is also precarious, said Mr. Sopko, the special inspector general for the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

By the end of the year, the U.S. will have spent $103 billion in Afghanistan, “more than the United States has spent to rebuild any single country in our history,” he said.

Oversight is especially important now, as Afghanistan faces a “pivotal transition year” with new presidential elections that could be “the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Afghanistan’s history,” Mr. Sopko said.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said he was reminded of another U.S. conflict and reconstruction effort.

“Lots of aid money thrown at Vietnam. There was no aspect of life in South Vietnam we weren’t helping to finance,” Mr. Connolly said.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said not enough had been done to change the way aid was spent in Afghanistan.

Kathleen Campbell, a top USAID’s official dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan, argued in a statement to The Washington Times that reconstruction efforts Afghanistan have led to “a brighter future.”

“USAID’s investment — only 3 percent of the overall cost of the war — and robust oversight have contributed to Afghanistan experiencing greater improvement in human development, a measure of health, education and standard of living, than any other country in the world since 2000,” she said.

But Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, said he was concerned over the lack of reliable measures of progress and evaluations of spending that some aid programs provide.

“We’re not spending money that just pops out of the air. It comes out of my back pocket and your back pocket,” he said. “It’s incompetence, plain and simple fireable incompetence.”

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