the Taliban control Afghanistan and Remove the US-backed government It is astonishing in its speed and tragic in its impact, but it does not surprise experts who have monitored America’s reconstruction efforts over the past 20 years. The reasons for this boil down to eight paradoxes that lie at the heart of a recent review of the mission by a US government watchdog.
“We can’t turn back the clock in Afghanistan, but we’re doing similar work in other countries,” John Sobko, who leads the monitoring agency, said. Recently said NPR. “And we should learn from 20 years ago, not try to forget and wash it, or sweep it under the rug.”
The list highlights a series of critical flaws in the US approach, many of which are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding—what the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, calls, “the willful disregard for information that may be available.”
US goals have often been “operationally impractical or conceptually incoherent”, New SIGAR Report He says, through a list of eight paradoxes that the United States and its partners have attempted to overcome. The report says they tried:
- root out corruption, but also to stimulate the economy by pumping billions of dollars into it;
- improving formal governance and eliminating the culture of impunity, but also to maintain security, even if it means empowering corrupt or predatory actors;
- give Afghan security forces a competitive advantage against the Taliban, but also to limit them to the equipment and skills they can maintain after the United States is gone;
- directing substantial reconstruction funds through the Afghan government to help officials exercise public financial management, but also to prevent waste, fraud and abuse;
- Building a credible electoral process from scratch, but also for the sake of respecting Afghan sovereignty;
- Focus on making immediate progress in security and governance, but also on building long-term capacity for Afghan officials;
- limiting poppy cultivation, but without depriving farmers and workers who depend on it;
- Empowering women to become more educated and economically independent, but also to be culturally sensitive and respectful of Afghan traditions.
SIGAR says the benefits are less than the costs
The SIGAR report acknowledges that the United States has helped millions of Afghan citizens in remarkable ways. The literacy rate among youth increased by about 30 percentage points for males, and about 20 percentage points for females. The under-five mortality rate has decreased by more than 50%. Life expectancy increased by 16% to 65 years.
The problem, says SIGAR, is that these gains are not sustainable after leaving the United States. Nor is it enough to justify the $145 billion the United States has spent to fund reconstruction — including $83 billion for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces that offered little resistance as the Taliban took control.
“When you look at how much we spent and what we got for it, it’s mind-boggling,” a former senior Defense Department official told SIGAR analysts in 2015.
The costs can be measured not only in the more than $2 trillion the United States spent on war and reconstruction, but also in lives lost.
The report stated that during the conflict, 2,443 US soldiers were killed and 20,666 wounded, along with 1,144 coalition soldiers. It was even worse for the Afghans, with at least 66,000 of their military killed, according to SIGAR. Of the civilians, more than 48,000 people were killed, and thousands more were injured – estimates suggest both of which are likely far understating the true numbers.
Many of the problems identified in the report reflect the troubling dynamic that has arisen when the United States’ preference for quick (even if unsustainable) results has faced unique challenges in Afghanistan — which has a “complex society with deeply-rooted traditions and a corrupt political economy,” according to the inspector’s office. general.
The US government’s goals and strategy have also changed frequently, creating what the FBI calls SIGAR “20 one-year reconstruction efforts, rather than one 20-year effort.”
“At various points,” SIGAR says as she lists the reasons for the presence of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, “the U.S. government hoped to eliminate al-Qaeda, eliminate the Taliban who hosted it, and deny safe haven to all terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Build security forces Afghan forces so that they can deny terrorists a safe haven in the future, and help the civilian government become legitimate and capable enough to win the trust of Afghans.”
7 lessons for the United States in Afghanistan
SIGAR’s Office of Inspector General lists seven key lessons the United States must take in as it strives to evacuate diplomats and other personnel. Each of these critical issues takes on its own chapter in the report, but SIGAR also presents them as a list of daunting challenges:
- Strategy: The US government has continually struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy for what it hopes to achieve.
- Timelines: The US government has consistently underestimated the amount of time required to rebuild Afghanistan, setting unrealistic timelines and expectations that prioritize spending quickly. These choices increased corruption and reduced the effectiveness of the programmes.
- Sustainability: Many of the institutions and infrastructure projects built by the United States were not sustainable.
- Personnel: The counterproductive policies and practices of civilian and military personnel have frustrated efforts.
- Insecurity: Persistent insecurity has severely undermined reconstruction efforts.
- Context: The US government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to adapt its efforts accordingly.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: US government agencies have rarely conducted enough monitoring and evaluation to understand the impact of their efforts.
Tips for future nation-building missions
The SIGAR analysis is the latest in a series of 10 other reports that have been the subject of “lessons learned” in Afghanistan. The new report’s title is “What We Need to Learn”—reflecting the authors’ view that the United States has not yet mastered important concepts, and their hope that the United States will acknowledge its failures and work to improve the rebuilding of other countries.
The SIGAR report states that “Applying these critical lessons will save lives and prevent waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan and in future reconstruction missions elsewhere around the world.”
The report’s executive summary concludes with a list explaining why the United States should focus on improving its ability to carry out reconstruction tasks. From the report:
- It’s expensive. For example, all war-related costs of US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan over the past two decades have been estimated at $6.4 trillion.
- They usually go bad.
- The widespread perception that it was going well did not prevent US officials from pursuing them.
- Rebuilding countries mired in conflict is in fact an ongoing endeavor of the US government, reflected in efforts in the Balkans and Haiti and in smaller efforts currently underway in Mali, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
- Large reconstruction campaigns usually start on a small scale, so it would not be difficult for the US government to slide that slope again elsewhere and have the outcome similar to that of Afghanistan.
A former senior defense official told SIGAR that the United States should develop its strategies and skills to rebuild before a crisis occurs rather than when it is most needed, comparing preparation with the primary priority of military readiness.
Another senior US official echoed the idea.
“We don’t have a successful post-conflict stabilization model,” former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told SIGAR. “Every time we have one of these things, it’s a little game. I’m not sure if we did it again, we’d do a better job.”
cigar she was shaped by Congress NS Overseeing all aspects of reconstruction. For years now, this has been the case sound the alarm On problems related to the capabilities and sustainability of Afghan security forces. Many of those warnings Now proven to be accurate.
“It’s tragic, and it’s very sad because of the people and the expenses that we’ve spent over the past 20 years,” Sopko said.
But he added, “This is not surprising.”