The US Congress has appropriated almost $65 billion towards the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) since 2002. However, a quarterly report released last month by the US watchdog, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), stated that it was unable to report on most of this American taxpayer funded effort since the US command decided to classify the ANSF data. The data, which includes figures on ANSF strength, literacy training, cost of food, equipment, infrastructure and anti-corruption measures, had been available for the last six years but was classified in the last quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, Congress has appropriated an additional $107.5 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction.
SIGAR referred to the decision to classify this information as “inexplicable”. It openly challenged the claim that releasing data on female recruitment, salaries and desertion will benefit the Taliban, leading the US to back down from shrouding these seemingly innocuous numbers in secrecy. In what is being termed a “partial reversal”, US officials said they would make basic data available, but any data that could prove helpful to the Taliban (e.g., fighting capacity of the Afghan Army and police units) will remain classified. It is the grey areas in between which are the main point of contention. Classification of information such as the amount of training or equipment supplied will interfere with concerted efforts to account for the billions of dollars the US has spent on the Afghan forces. It still remains to be seen how much data will be declassified.
Several previous investigations by SIGAR have shed light in places that decision-makers would prefer to remain in the shadows. An inquiry of the $200 million literacy training project discovered negligible impacts on the literacy rate of the ANSF while desertions continue to be a setback. The watchdog also reported on a failed aircraft programme, which entailed $486 million worth of 20 Italian-made G222 cargo planes that were unfit for the operational environment of Afghanistan. Other investigations included the newly constructed $36 million command and control centre at Camp Leatherneck which was never used, along with a $456,669 firing range that collapsed after a few months. SIGAR has been active in exposing massive corruption in reconstruction efforts as well. In one particular case, a $1 million contract was given to two Afghan contractors to install 250 culvert denial systems to prevent the installation of IEDs beneath roads. However, there is no record of this project ever being started.
Taking the results of these investigations into consideration, it becomes increasingly difficult to lay the blame for failure in Afghanistan on the shoulders of Pakistan. Wasted reconstruction funds have found their way into the pockets of the enemy and the ANSF, by all reports, remains a barely functional force. Around 9,500 American troops and thousands of contractors have been left behind as part of the new Resolute Support mission to continue training the ANSF. By the end of 2015, the number of US troops will decline to 5,500 and the Americans have committed several billion dollars in upcoming years. With increased spending in tandem with reduced oversight, declassification of information is critical in order to identify where efforts have proven futile while also pinpointing any successful measures.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2015.