- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2015

A government watchdog says the Obama administration has no idea how many Afghan soldiers and police are available to fight the Taliban, after nearly a decade of the U.S. paying for training and equipping those security forces.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), also told Congress Thursday that Afghanistan is still the “global leader in illicit opium cultivation and production,” despite $8.4 billion from the U.S. for counternarcotics efforts.

In his latest audit of the $110 billion U.S. rebuilding effort, Mr. Sopko said theft and the waste of billions of dollars in U.S. aid is rampant. The mismanagement has led to uncertainty about how many troops and police Afghanistan will be able to provide when the U.S. pulls out completely next year.

“Neither the United States nor its Afghan allies truly know how many Afghan soldiers and police are available for duty or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities,” his 40-page report said.

As fighting season begins in Afghanistan, most of the remaining U.S. soldiers are serving as military advisers. The administration plans to withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of next year.

Congress has appropriated at least $60.7 billion to train, equip and pay salaries for the Afghan army and police force over the past decade. NATO said this year that the Afghan army had 167,024 members and the Afghan police had 154,685 members, but the SIGAR report said those numbers are not reliable, mainly because they were provided by the Afghan government.

“The U.S. government cannot verify how the Afghan government is spending the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct assistance it is given annually to pay for [Afghan army] personnel salaries,” the report said. “That is a major concern: from 2009 through the end of 2014, the United States has contributed $2.3 billion to pay [Afghan military] salaries and incentives.”

Congress has appropriated nearly $110 billion to reconstruction in Afghanistan, the most expensive nation-building effort in U.S. history.

In Mr. Sopko’s report, released Wednesday, he also found that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is reducing its staff by 40 percent, a figure he called “arbitrary” and without explanation.

“SIGAR was told that this cut is non-negotiable,” the report said.

As for the opium production, much of the money from the U.S. has been spent to help troops eradicate drugs and to provide farmers with alternative cash crops.

But about 560,000 acres are involved in opium cultivation that produces over 13 million tons of the drug, the report said. Production of opium rose 14.5 percent last year.

The report also found:

⦁ U.S. appropriations for Afghanistan reconstruction grew by $2.3 billion, to nearly $109.8 billion. Of that amount, $14.9 billion remains in the pipeline to be spent.

⦁ Domestic revenue in Afghanistan last year paid for only 33 percent, or $1.7 billion, of the country’s total budget expenditures of $5.2 billion, with donor contributions making up the difference.

⦁ The U.S. government has lost the ability to assess Afghanistan’s customs-collections processes because of reductions in U.S. civilian and military personnel.

⦁ The total annual cost for the Defense and Interior ministries and Afghan security forces, at the current authorized force strength of 352,000, is $5.5 billion a year.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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