The U.S. government spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban over the weekend, wiping out the progress of the last two decades of U.S. military involvement in the country.
Before the Taliban takeover, however, almost $500 million in U.S. taxpayer funds spent in the country had already been called into question by the U.S. government watchdog agency conducting oversight on the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.
More than $494 million in costs incurred by the Defense Department, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Agriculture Department were singled out in audits by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which questioned their allowability.
SIGAR’s audits questioned the costs for three reasons: “insufficient supporting documentation,” “noncompliance with laws and/or regulations,” or “costs incurred outside of the award terms,” according to a quarterly report released last month.
Of the questioned costs, 87% were linked to DOD and USAID awards.
The audits probed a range of programs. SIGAR found $630,418 in questioned costs associated with USAID’s Civic Engagement Program, which worked to educate Afghan citizens about how to influence public policy. Another $101,378 in questioned costs was identified in the State Department’s Legal Aid through Legal Education Program, which worked to improve the criminal justice system and strengthen women’s legal rights in Afghanistan.
The agencies ended up disallowing $28 million of the $494 million. Those who ran such programs were required to provide documentation regarding costs to federal auditors, but that documentation was lacking in many cases, the report found.
SIGAR also found instances of apparent disorganization in an audit of the U.S. Air Force’s support for operation and maintenance of the Afghan Air Force’s A-29 attack planes. The U.S. purchased 20 of these aircraft for the Afghan army, one of which was captured by the Taliban over the weekend along with U.S. military equipment.
“The news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter has been bleak,” Special Inspector General John Sopko wrote in the quarterly report, which was published before the Taliban made its lightning advance across the country.
Sopko also criticized the “pervasiveness of overoptimism” and “a tendency to elevate good news and anecdotes over data suggesting a lack of progress.”
In some cases, he said, “programs could be deemed ‘successful’ even if they had not achieved or contributed to broader, more important goals—such as creating an effective Afghan security force and a stable Afghanistan.”
The special inspector general’s mission is in part to “prevent and detect waste, fraud, and abuse” of taxpayer dollars in the Afghanistan reconstruction. The financial audit program was started in 2012 to address oversight concerns with Afghanistan spending. Since then, SIGAR has issued dozens of financial audit reports and made hundreds of recommendations.
In his 2022 budget request, President Joe Biden asked Congress for $3.33 billion for the Afghan army as well as $364 million in civilian assistance. Those funds would come in addition to about $6.68 billion already appropriated but not yet disbursed for Afghanistan, SIGAR said.
However, Biden made his budget request in May, before the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated so drastically, and it is unclear whether the president still wants Congress to approve those funds.
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