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America’s Money Lost the Afghan War

1 67 13
14.09.2021

Last month, while the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan unfurled, the office of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a thorough 140-page report on lessons from Washington’s two-decade presence in the country. Amid details of political decisions and missed opportunities, the report offered a run-through of the one element the United States consistently overlooked during its occupation: corruption. Specifically, the SIGAR report details the American choices that, time and again, “increased corruption”—corruption that rotted the U.S.-backed regime and that allowed the Taliban to topple the government far more quickly than many assumed.

Last month, while the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan unfurled, the office of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a thorough 140-page report on lessons from Washington’s two-decade presence in the country. Amid details of political decisions and missed opportunities, the report offered a run-through of the one element the United States consistently overlooked during its occupation: corruption. Specifically, the SIGAR report details the American choices that, time and again, “increased corruption”—corruption that rotted the U.S.-backed regime and that allowed the Taliban to topple the government far more quickly than many assumed.

The examples of American decisions and policies that expanded rampant corruption—and how such expansion stemmed directly from the U.S. presence—are too numerous to list. Delivering “ghost money” to corrupt Afghan officials, looking the other way when investigations into elite corruption stalled out, ignoring signs that paid-off warlords were in hock to Taliban insurgents—the United States’ presence in Afghanistan is saturated in stories of how America and its NATO allies ignored metastasizing corruption, especially in Kabul.

Nor was it all the kind of simple, bags-of-cash bribery we may be accustomed to. As SIGAR notes, much of the U.S.-fueled corruption stemmed directly from increased U.S.-backed investment in the country, without any commensurate oversight. “As spending increased, the United States initially failed to recognize the existential threat that corruption posed to the reconstruction effort, missing an opportunity to make anticorruption efforts a central part of its strategy,” SIGAR writes.

It has long been known that a flood of international aid can incentivize corruption—with corrupt officials trying to grab at as much of the financial inflow as possible—but Washington apparently missed the memo. “The basic assumption was that corruption was created by individual Afghans and that donor interventions were the solution,” SIGAR notes. “It would take years for the United States to realize that it was fueling corruption with its excessive spending and lack of oversight.” As one 2010 State Department cable quoting the Afghan national........

© Foreign Policy


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