Here’s the latest news from Afghanistan. It’s a fire fed by our dollars.

Summary: The presidential candidates posture and bicker while the war in Afghanistan burns in its 15th year, consuming billions of US dollars while our infrastructure rots. Our ignorance is a choice because the government and NGO’s report the sad details. Here is an update. Nothing will change unless we make it an issue, and more broadly unless we re-take the reins in America. {Second of two posts today.}

  • Cumulative funding for Afghanistan reconstruction: aprox $113.1 billion.
  • Cost of the Apollo Program (1959-1973): aprox $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

Afghanistan war

The projects to occupy, develop, and restructure Iraq and Afghanistan are among the largest projects the United States has ever attempted. The expedition to Afghanistan, now in its fifteenth year, has been a series of thoroughly-documented failure. Yet we learn nothing and the project runs on while Afghanistan deteriorates.

The presidential candidates seldom mention it and show no interest why we have burnt so much money there while America’s vital infrastructure rots. Historians probably will consider it one of the clearest examples of the inability to learn from experience that so damages US political affairs.

Here is the latest, a 230 page compendium of failure — with some small, mostly exaggerated, success. Like its predecessors, it will have the effect of a pebble thrown into the sea.

SIGAR logo

Excerpt from The Quarterly Report to Congress, January 2016

This quarterly report focuses on the Afghan economy, but as the essay in Section 1, “Growing an Economy in Stony Ground,” concludes, developing Afghanistan’s economy may depend more on improving security, the business climate, and the educational system than on implementing specific economic programs. However, in this reporting period, Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago. The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.

Vicious and repeated attacks in Kabul this quarter shook confidence in the national-unity government. A year after the Coalition handed responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), American and British forces were compelled on several occasions to support ANDSF troops in combat against the Taliban.

The lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials to get out to manage and inspect U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. This quarter the dangers of absent oversight were exposed when a task force appointed by President Ashraf Ghani reportedly found that millions of dollars were being embezzled while Afghanistan pays for numerous nonexistent “ghost” schools, “ghost” teachers, and “ghost” students

… Another performance audit this quarter found that despite U.S. training efforts, the Afghan National Army’s National Engineer Brigade is incapable of operating independently.


… fiscal gap (the budget deficit excluding international aid) has risen, an estimated 20% of the 2015 GDP, that can only be filled through external financial support this year and most likely in the foreseeable future. As an extension of the political transition, rampant corruption and the poor enforcement of tax collection and customs control, tax revenues fell from 11.6% of GDP in 2011 to 8.4% in 2014.

The bottom line…

“On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, funding the U.S. government for the rest of the fiscal year and increasing cumulative funding for Afghanistan reconstruction to approximately $113.1 billion.”

Compare with the cost of the Apollo Program (1959-1973): aprox $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

The SIGAR report continues like this for 230 pages. It cites many other authoritative research reports showing even bleaker findings.

Bad news from other reports cited by SIGAR

The Asia Foundation’s 2015 survey (232 pages) reported that…

“Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country and confidence in government fell to their lowest point in a decade, while fear for personal safety increased to a record high. Afghans cite deteriorating security, unemployment, and corruption as the main reasons for their pessimism.

… Starting in 2011, the survey has asked respondents if they would leave Afghanistan if
given the opportunity. This year, 39.9% of Afghans say yes,

… Respondents report a sharp decline in their satisfaction with nearly all types of government institutions. The proportion of Afghans who say hat the national government is doing a good job has fallen from 75.3% in 2014 to 57.8% in 2015. Satisfaction with the performance of provincial, municipal, and district governments has also declined.

… Despite government efforts to curb corruption, 89.9% of Afghans say that corruption is a problem in their daily lives, the highest percentage reported in a decade, with 61.1% saying it is a major problem “

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) looked at “Afghanistan’s Private Sector” (113 pages, October 2015). Among their bleak findings…

“The significant amount of aid and vast international military spending post-2001 has re-ingrained a culture of aid–rentierism: the Afghan elite competes internally for political rents from the international community. The Karzai administration was disinterested in facilitating a more inclusive private sector. The little wealth there is in the country is inequitably distributed, and the rich-poor gap has been widening.”

The worse news

These reports are often optimistic about the Afghanistan project, often delusionally so. For 15 years they have described bleak and worsening conditions, usually with a mild outlook for the future. That is, they have often proven too optimistic during the past 15 years.

Expect worse to come. Fear blowback from our ill-conceived, arrogant, and poorly-executed intervention in this very foreign land.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these posts for a better understanding our war in Afghanistan, and the books listed below.

  1. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan.
  2. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan.
  3. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen.
  4. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?Spoiler: lots.
  5. We destroy a secular regime in Afghanistan (& its women’s rights), then we wage war on the new regime to restore women’s rights. Welcome to the American Empire.
  6. Hidden history of our first step into the Afghanistan War. It’s still important for us to understand.
  7. Let’s learn what happened in Afghanistan, so we can do better in phase 2 of our Long War.
No Good Men Among the Living
Available at Amazon.
Fixing Failed States
Available at Amazon.
The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building
Available at Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Here’s the latest news from Afghanistan. It’s a fire fed by our dollars.”

  1. Apparently, others think differently.

    Legacy Rising: DoD Business Task Force Impact Evidence Grows” at RealClearDefense. Opening:

    Scarcely a year after its demise at the end of 2014, evidence is now mounting that the DoD Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) may have been the most catalytic agent for economic growth since the Marshall Plan. The evidence includes a state-of-the-art Task Force economic impact assessment, and early agreement on two enormous transnational energy projects that the Task Force facilitated.

    Quantifying the impact of overseas economic development projects is notoriously difficult, and until recently hard evidence of economic impact for the $638.5 million that TFBSO spent in Afghanistan had been largely anecdotal. That changed last November, when a year-old economic impact assessment of TFBSO’s Afghanistan operations finally came to light.

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