Late last year, the Afghanistan government asked the United States and other international donors to spot them some cash –to the tune of $537 million—in order to close a yawning budget gap.
So the U.S. State Department quietly doled out about $100 million to Afghanistan, with very little coverage of the transaction, and according to auditors, not much information to justify its decision.
Now, the federal watchdog in charge of keeping tabs on America’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan wants more details about how that money was used.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, on Thursday sent a letter to Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel F. Feldman and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Michael McKinley requesting that their offices provide more information about the massive money transfer.
The State Department originally gave Afghanistan $75 million last September, with the stipulation that the government would be required to document how it had spent the money.
Afghanistan officials responded, saying they used the money to address “urgent needs including payment for civil servant salaries.” Despite the vague answer, the U.S. ponied up an additional $25 million. Sopko’s letter suggests that State didn’t have enough information from Afghanistan to be assured that the money was getting in the right hands.
The auditor included five questions for the U.S. officials to answer—including “how [did] the State Department determine[d] that $100 million was an appropriate amount”? SIGAR also asked if the U.S. had verified how the money was spent.
Sopko and his team have been extremely critical of U.S.’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. They have consistently warned that without significant reform, the rebuilding efforts — already costing taxpayers an astronomical $104 billion – will fail. And SIGAR routinely publishes scathing reports from its investigations on the ground in Afghanistan.
Just last month, SIGAR issued a report questioning whether $400 million in funding for women’s development programs is being used for its intended purposed. U.S. officials, for their part, responded sharply to Sopko, saying their efforts have so far demonstrated results. The auditors, however, still expressed doubts and said the U.S. government has no sufficient way to track whether the programs are actually working.
Separately, they have been increasingly critical of U.S.’s efforts to fund the Afghan National Security Forces, which have dwindled to their lowest levels in recent history.
Together, the spate of troubling reports paint an alarming picture of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. So, it should come as no surprise that Sopko and his office are skeptical about throwing more money at the Afghan government with little oversight.
“Unless these trends change, it seems likely that the Afghan government will require continued financial assistance from the United States and other donors for years,” the letter said. “In February, officials from the U.S. Embassy warned me that the shortfall could be as much as $400 million this year unless the Afghan government’s revenue generation increases significantly.”
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