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Report: U.S. wasted billions on cars, buildings in Afghanistan

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FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, birds flyover the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. The United States wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, according to a report released Monday, March 1, 2021, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government watchdog.
FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, birds flyover the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. The United States wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, according to a report released Monday, March 1, 2021, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government watchdog. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File) (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

ISLAMABAD — The U.S. wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, according to a report released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog.

The agency said it reviewed $7.8 billion spent since 2008 on buildings and vehicles. Only $343.2 million worth of buildings and vehicles “were maintained in good condition,” said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which oversees American taxpayer money spent on the protracted conflict.

The report said that just $1.2 billion of the $7.8 billion went to pay for buildings and vehicles that were used as intended.

“The fact that so many capital assets wound up not used, deteriorated or abandoned should have been a major cause of concern for the agencies financing these projects,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, said in his report.

The U.S. public is weary of the nearly 20-year-old war and President Joe Biden is reviewing a peace deal his predecessor, Donald Trump, signed with the Taliban a year ago. He must decide whether to withdraw all troops by May 1, as promised in the deal, or stay and possibly prolong the war. Officials say no decision has been made but on Monday, Washington’s peace envoy and the American who brokered the U.S.-Taliban deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, was back in the Afghan capital for a tour of the region.

Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government have been holding on-again-off-again talks in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar but a deal that could bring peace to Afghanistan after 40 years of relentless war seems far off.

After Kabul, Khalilzad will travel to Qatar’s capital of Doha and neighboring countries, including Pakistan, to push anew for progress in the Doha talks and a cease-fire to end the relentless violence.

Analyst Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal said the findings by SIGAR are not surprising. The reasons for the financial losses include Taliban attacks, corruption and “throwing money at the problem without considering the implications,” he said.

“It is one thing to build a clinic and school, it is another to operate, maintain, and in many cases defend this infrastructure from Taliban attacks,” Roggio said. “Additionally, the West has wildly underestimated the impact of Afghan corruption and in many cases incompetence. It was always a recipe for failure.”

U.S. agencies responsible for construction didn’t even ask the Afghans if they wanted or needed the buildings they ordered built, or if they had the technical ability to keep them running, Sopko said in his report.

The waste occurred in violation of “multiple laws stating that U.S. agencies should not construct or procure capital assets until they can show that the benefiting country has the financial and technical resources and capability to use and maintain those assets effectively,” he said.

Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, said a “donor-knows-best” mentality often prevailed and it routinely meant little to no consultation with the Afghan government on projects.

He said a lack of coordination among the many international donors aided the wastefulness. For example, he said schools were on occasion built alongside other newly constructed schools financed by other donors. The construction went ahead because once the decision was made — contract awarded and money allocated — the school was built regardless of the need, Farhadi said.

The injection of billions of dollars fueled corruption among Afghans and international contractors. But experts say that despite the waste, the need for assistance is real, given the government’s dependence on international money.

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