The watchdog charged with overseeing the US government’s costly reconstruction effort in Afghanistan has more bad news: the campaign is still plagued by corruption.
It is a common refrain from John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who produces quarterly reports on the $117 billion rebuilding mission.
“The big issue…is corruption,” he said on C-SPAN Monday, discussing the oversight body’s latest report.
“We have problems of intense corruption in the Afghan military and police,” Sopko added.
He used a metaphor his office has previously employed to describe how taxpayer money is being spent.
“We are paying for ghost soldiers, ghost police,” Sopko said. “We find the same problem also in schools and clinics: We have ghost clinics, ghost schools, ghost teachers—all of that we’re paying for.”
In some cases, Sopko explained, the US government is funding schools in areas under Taliban control, or clinics in places that don’t have doctors, running water or electricity.
“Somebody is taking the money,” he said.
In addition, it’s estimated that more than half of the fuel purchased for Afghans fails to reach the intended recipients. The funding is simply pocketed somewhere along the way or the fuel diverted.
SIGAR also highlighted an issue it’s raised in previous reporting: the failure of the US counter-narcotics operations in the country.
“We’ve spent $8 billion,” Sopko said of interdiction funding. Despite that, “drugs are probably the only growth industry and growth export in Afghanistan.”
Since its inception in 2008, SIGAR has identified over $2 billion in savings. The agency has embarked on numerous financial audits, revealing nearly $400 million in questionable funding.
The aggressive oversight has created a contentious relationship between Sopko and the agencies he’s overseeing—particularly the Department of Defense.
The Pentagon claimed Sopko is not following defined inspector general standards. Sopko accused the DOD of a cover-up related to a now-shuttered business liaison office that blew hundreds of millions of dollars on Afghan projects.
Asked on Monday if he thinks the new administration will take a different approach to reconstruction in the country that’s been the target of one of America’s longest running wars, Sopko said: “It’s too early to tell.”
He reported that the Pentagon is currently conducting a review of the entire rebuilding mission
“We’re hoping to see that coming out soon,” Sopko said.