SIGAR To Investigate DOD Business Task Force For Mismanagement In Afghanistan
19 November 2014,
Posted on InsideDefense.com: November 18, 2014 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko is planning to launch an “in-depth” investigation into a Defense Department business task force he says squandered $800 million.
Sopko, who said the U.S. effort to develop Afghanistan’s economy has been an “abysmal failure,” asserts that the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) has accomplished nothing despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars to attract global private sector firms to the struggling nation.
“They’ve spent approximately $700, $800 million, and as far as we can see, they’ve accomplished nothing,” he said, adding that “we’re doing a really in-depth review of the TFBSO.”
Meanwhile, Sopko placed a great deal of Afghanistan’s economic troubles at the feet of U.S. leaders who lacked a comprehensive strategy to rebuild the country.
“Who is the person in charge of trying to help the economy and has that person been held accountability for what has been an abysmal failure?” he said. “I cannot find anybody that has lost a job for screwing up in Afghanistan and there have been a lot of screw ups. This is the most money we have spent on the reconstruction of a country in the history of our republic. Shouldn’t it have been better?”
Sopko also questioned DOD’s mission to develop Afghanistan’s economy, saying it was more a role for the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development.
U.S. policy makers “should have planned for developing this economy and [they] haven’t, so we are stuck,” he said. “The criticism I have is . . . unless you want to create a client state for X number of years, how do you develop a sustainable economy?”
Sopko acknowledged that Afghanistan also lacks any meaningful legal infrastructure to help businesses thrive. A country also needs a financial system contractors can trust, he said, adding that the Kabul Bank scandal — a banking crisis that almost collapsed the institution — did nothing to reassure the global business community.
Sopko brought up mining in the country as an example of governmental failure, noting it took two years to pass the law that regulates mining licenses for the estimated $1 trillion in natural resources under the country. The legislation, however, still has gaping holes that “no serious investor would want to put money into,” he said.
Contractors already investing in Afghanistan face other challenges. “I think a lot of contractors are extremely concerned . . . about how poorly run these programs were,” Sopko said.
He recalled contractors asking why roads in Afghanistan crumbled, even when they were built to U.S. standards and had weight limits placed on them. The reason was there was no way for the government to enforce the weight limits or create the infrastructure to enforce them. Trucks blatantly ignored the limits, piling on as much weight as possible.
“It beats up roads with packed trucks and there is no [operations and maintenance] to fix things like pot holes,” Sopko said. “Contractors are really in a hard spot over there.” — Scott Maucione
Inside Washington Publishers