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Report details US mistakes in trying to rebuild Afghanistan

SIGAR says billions of dollars were wasted, paints a bleak future for the failed nation in the heart of Asia

Report details US mistakes in trying to rebuild Afghanistan

A Taliban fighter stands guard at Massoud Square in Kabul on Aug. 16. (Photo: AFP)

Published: August 19, 2021 04:02 AM GMT

Updated: August 19, 2021 04:09 AM GMT

A United States government agency has released what is expected to be a final report on a costly two-decade effort to remake Afghanistan even as the Taliban swept into Kabul triggering an exodus of citizens and foreigners.

The report painted a bleak future for a country that was essentially a failed state until the US invasion in 2001 sparked by the 9/11 attacks by Osama bin Laden and his Afghan-based al-Qaeda network.

“Twenty years later, much had improved and much had not in Afghanistan. If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that could sustain itself and pose little threat to US national security interests, the overall picture in Afghanistan is bleak,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said.

SIGAR is the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction.

It said there was no doubt, however, that the lives of millions of Afghans have been improved by US government interventions, including gains in life expectancy, the mortality of children under five, GDP per capita and literacy rates, among others.

“Despite these gains, the key question is whether they were commensurate with the US investment or sustainable after a US drawdown. In SIGAR’s analysis, they were neither,” the report stated.

Billions of US reconstruction dollars were wasted in Afghanistan as projects went unused or fell into disrepair

It found the US government continuously struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy for what it hoped to achieve in Afghanistan. No single agency had the necessary mindset, expertise and resources to develop and manage the strategy to rebuild Afghanistan.

This was complicated by the US government consistently underestimating the amount of time required to rebuild Afghanistan. It created unrealistic timelines and expectations that prioritized spending targets too quickly.

 “US officials created explicit timelines in the mistaken belief that a decision in Washington could transform the calculus of complex Afghan institutions, power brokers and communities contested by the Taliban,” the report said.

“Billions of US reconstruction dollars were wasted in Afghanistan as projects went unused or fell into disrepair,” SIGAR said. “These choices increased corruption and reduced the effectiveness of programs.”  

SIGAR added that US officials had prioritized their own political preferences for what Afghanistan’s reconstruction should look like, rather than what they could realistically achieve.

The most fundamental of questions were continuously revisited, including who America’s enemies and allies were and exactly what the US government should try to accomplish, the report said.

“The ends were murky and grew in number and complexity,” the report concluded.

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