Afghanistan Needs More Than U.S. Troops to Survive

While the U.S. waits for Afghanistan to sign a post-2014 troop deal, a new report shows the war-torn nation is going to need a lot more than that.

US Army soldiers attached to the 2nd platoon, C-Coy. 1-23 Infantry walk in line behind a designated mine-detecting device operator at Naja-bien village, notorious for IED caused injuries and deaths, in Panjwai district during a morning operation to find and destroy bomb traps made from IED's on September 23, 2012.
National Journal
Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
April 30, 2014, 7:21 a.m.

While the United States waits pa­tiently for the new Afghan pres­id­ent to sign a post-2014 troop deal, a new re­port shows that the war-torn na­tion is go­ing to need much more than a few thou­sand U.S. and NATO forces to stand on its own.

The U.S. Spe­cial In­spect­or for Afghan Re­con­struc­tion, or­S­IGAR, just re­leased his quarterly re­port and while there was “a rare mo­ment of op­tim­ism” when elec­tions were suc­cess­fully held earli­er this month, there is still much that could re­verse the gains Afgh­anistan has made over the past 13 years.

Cor­rup­tion tops that list, of course. Afgh­anistan is tied for last place with Somalia and North Korea among 177 coun­tries rated for cor­rup­tion by Trans­par­ency In­ter­na­tion­al. In 2012 alone, it’s es­tim­ated that half of Afghans paid nearly $4 bil­lion in bribes. And des­pite pour­ing nearly $200 mil­lion in­to help­ing Afgh­anistan col­lect cus­toms fees, a key stream of rev­en­ue, “­visors re­port that Afghan em­ploy­ees who try to prop­erly col­lect cus­toms du­ties have been kid­napped and in­tim­id­ated,” Spe­cial In­spect­or John Sop­ko wrote in the re­port.

Be­cause cor­rup­tion re­mains so per­vas­ive, draw­ing down the ap­prox­im­ately 33,000 U.S. troops in Afgh­anistan to zero or, com­bined with NATO, main­tain­ing a force of up to 12,000 for­eign fight­ers isn’t go­ing to make re­build­ing any easi­er. Part of the prob­lem, Sop­ko said, is that it’s un­clear what the ex­act defin­i­tion of cor­rup­tion is. Joint Staff of­fi­cials have used a defin­i­tion of cor­rup­tion as “ab­use of pub­lic of­fice and private gain,” but that doesn’t al­ways trans­late in Afgh­anistan “where gifts to of­fi­cials and fa­vors for eth­nic or tri­bal pat­ron­age net­works are nor­mal,” the re­port said. “ISAF even­tu­ally defined cor­rup­tion as ‘the mis­use of power for per­son­al gain,’ but found ap­ply­ing even that loose stand­ard chal­len­ging.”

An­oth­er ma­jor chal­lenge in Afgh­anistan is its abund­ant poppy fields that pro­duce opi­um and help fund the Taliban. The U.S.has tried nu­mer­ous ways to com­bat opi­um, but after spend­ing $7 bil­lion and a set­ting a goal to re­duce the cul­tiv­a­tion of poppy by half by 2016, it’s ac­tu­ally grown by nearly 40 per­cent, the re­port said. Afghan forces have tried to con­tin­ue erad­ic­a­tion ef­forts, but with erod­ing sup­port from U.S. and NATO, it’s un­clear how much of a pri­or­ity that will be.

Since 2002, Con­gress has ap­pro­pri­ated more than $103 bil­lion to help re­build Afgh­anistan. Now those con­struc­tion pro­jects are at risk simply be­cause, with or without in­ter­na­tion­al forces after this year, in­spect­ors can’t reach many of the sites due to a lack of se­cur­ity. SIGAR says Afgh­anistan’s “over­sight bubbles” — the abil­ity of U.S. forces to pro­tect re­con­struc­tion in­spect­ors — are, like the U.S. mil­it­ary foot­print, get­ting smal­ler and smal­ler. With Afgh­anistan es­tim­ated to be able to fund as little as one third of its $7.5 bil­lion budget this year, Sop­ko has ‘ser­i­ous con­cerns” that the bil­lions of dol­lars that have flooded the coun­try will go to waste.

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