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Afghanistan mission provides little return on U.S. investment of money and troops

When President Trump talks about the “mess” he inherited from his predecessors, one of the most costly and intractable dilemmas is the U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan.

Over the past 16 years, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $ 700 billion on invading, occupying and rebuilding Afghanistan, where al Qaeda created a safe haven to plot the 9/11 attacks. Some analysts say the true cost, including increases to the Pentagon’s base budget and veterans’ benefits, already has topped $ 1 trillion.

Since 2001, 2,403 U.S. military personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and more than 20,000 American service members have been wounded.

Despite all that treasure and blood, Afghanistan is still a mess. As many as 20 Islamist extremist and insurgent groups control more than one-third of the country, the U.S.-supported government in Kabul is increasingly unable to support itself financially, corruption is rampant, and major terrorist attacks have struck at the heart of the capital this year.

Defense Secretary James Mattis conceded in June that the U.S. is not winning the war, with about 8,400 U.S. troops still serving as military advisers to Afghan security forces and waging counterterrorism operations.

Still, nobody wants to be the president who “loses” Afghanistan. And some security specialists say a total U.S. withdrawal would increase instability and harm U.S. relations in the region with countries such as India.

“For the U.S. to walk away now is unthinkable,” said James Jay Carafano, a top national security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “The pain would far outweigh the gain. It is not, as some say, a matter of sunk costs. What we must consider is the future.”

Beyond the security and diplomatic challenges, the U.S. is still pouring money into Afghanistan with very little idea what it’s buying.

“People are not being held accountable for wasting money,” John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, told Congress late last month. “We have given our procurement people — our ambassadors, our generals — a box of broken tools.”

In addition to “broken” procurement and human resources systems, Mr. Sopko testified, the U.S. military command rotation is referred to derisively as “the annual lobotomy.”

“Every year we change everybody out,” Mr. Sopko said.

He said on his last visit to Kabul to conduct audits, the acting U.S. ambassador wouldn’t allow Mr. Sopko and his team to leave the embassy compound, even with an armed escort.

“The ambassador refused to allow me or my staff to go,” he said. “So that’s problematic. There was no objection for security reasons. The explanation I got was, ‘I’m chief of mission, and I’m the one who’s accountable, and I’m not going to let you go.’”

U.S. taxpayers have spent $ 8 billion to eradicate the poppy crops in Afghanistan that provide extremists with money from narcotics production. That money has been wasted, too.

“There’s more drugs being put out now than when we started,” Mr. Sopko said. “The insurgents are getting more drugs, money, now than before.”

There have been other colossal wastes of money.

Mr. Sopko reported in June that the Pentagon squandered as much as $ 28 million over the past decade buying uniforms for the Afghan army with a woodland camouflage pattern, despite forests covering only 2 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area. The Afghan Defense Minister picked the costly, privately owned “forest” color pattern over free camouflage designs owned by the U.S. government.

The U.S. spent $ 486 million for 20 Italian-made cargo planes known as “deathtraps” that were later sold for a mere $ 32,000. Some of them ended up parked at the Kabul airport with small trees and weeds growing around them.

Taxpayers spent $ 335 million on a power plant that used just 1 percent of its capacity to blackout-plagued Kabul, according to an inspector general’s report in 2016.

And the U.S. has been paying the salaries of tens of thousands of “ghost” Afghan soldiers, police, teachers and civil servants who exist only on account ledgers, Mr. Sopko said.


Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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