USA — Fields: Rebuilding Afghanistan Requires Wise Choices

WASHINGTON — A clear under­stand­ing of the Afghan people’s needs and attain­able mile­stones for progress are nec­es­sary for U.S. funds to be used wise­ly, the spe­cial U.S. inspec­tor gen­er­al for Afghanistan recon­struc­tion told Con­gress yes­ter­day.

U.S. agen­cies involved in the effort “lack a full pic­ture of recon­struc­tion projects in Afghanistan,” Arnold Fields told the House For­eign Affairs sub­com­mit­tee on inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions, human rights and over­sight. He added that the issue “must be addressed to improve the imple­men­ta­tion of what is poised to be the largest over­seas recon­struc­tion effort in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.”

Since 2002, the Unit­ed States has invest­ed more than $50 bil­lion into the war-torn coun­try. A bud­get request sub­mit­ted to law­mak­ers by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma in Feb­ru­ary would add $20 bil­lion to Afghanistan recon­struc­tion fund­ing. But before the mon­ey is appro­pri­at­ed, Fields said, he intends to ensure it will be used respon­si­bly and that the Afghan gov­ern­ment will be held account­able for the Amer­i­can dol­lars it uses.

Fields’ under­tak­ing was estab­lished in 2008 to help in pre­vent­ing waste­ful spend­ing in Afghanistan. His office reports its find­ings to the White House, the State Depart­ment and the Pen­ta­gon, and it also offers rec­om­men­da­tions to make spend­ing and using fed­er­al funds for con­tract­ing trans­par­ent.

The spe­cial inspec­tor gen­er­al is audit­ing projects and pro­grams dat­ing back to the start of recon­struc­tion in Afghanistan. In the past 12 months, Fields’ office has pro­duced numer­ous reports, which iden­ti­fy issues dat­ing back to 2002, he said.

“We are, by way of the foren­sic effort, going back and deter­min­ing the extent to which funds were wast­ed dur­ing the peri­od in advance of this office hav­ing been stood up,” he said. “Our work has iden­ti­fied sev­er­al issues that ham­per the recon­struc­tion effort in Afghanistan. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about … inad­e­quate plan­ning, inad­e­quate sus­tain­abil­i­ty and inad­e­quate account­abil­i­ty.”

Fields cit­ed a lack of qual­i­ty con­trol for infra­struc­ture projects and agen­cies’ short­ages of qual­i­fied con­tract­ing offi­cials as exam­ples of his delegation’s research. Audits have dis­cov­ered “obso­lete plan­ning” doc­u­ments regard­ing ener­gy and secu­ri­ty, he said.

He also not­ed that mil­i­tary offi­cials are unable to pro­vide the inspec­tor general’s office with updat­ed plans for Afghan secu­ri­ty forces’ facil­i­ties and train­ing, despite the more than $25 bil­lion that’s already been appro­pri­at­ed to train and equip Afghan secu­ri­ty forces.

Not­ing that Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers deserve to have their dol­lars spent respon­si­bly, the inspec­tor gen­er­al said his office has con­duct­ed capa­bil­i­ty mile­stone audits to mon­i­tor devel­op­ment progress of field­ed Afghan units.

“As part of the plan­ning process, imple­ment­ing agen­cies must estab­lish reli­able met­rics to mea­sure progress,” said Fields, a retired Marine Corps major gen­er­al. “The abil­i­ty to accu­rate­ly mea­sure the abil­i­ties of the Afghan army and police is absolute­ly crit­i­cal to the U.S. strat­e­gy in Afghanistan.

“Our audit will — which is yet to be released — will describe weak­ness­es that have affect­ed the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the rat­ings sys­tem,” he con­tin­ued. “And cer­tain­ly, we will make rec­om­men­da­tions.”

This audit already has made an impact on how U.S. and NATO forces, as well as the Defense Depart­ment, mea­sure Afghan forces’ effec­tive­ness, he added. The department’s acknowl­edge­ment of the system’s lim­i­ta­tions has caused U.S. forces to employ a unit-lev­el sys­tem, as opposed to mea­sur­ing effec­tive­ness region­al­ly, he said.

Anoth­er find­ing in the past year has deter­mined that the Afghan gov­ern­ment can’t afford to oper­ate and main­tain infra­struc­ture. This means that while the Unit­ed States has con­tracts already fund­ed for the next few years to pre­serve such infra­struc­ture, it’s only a short-term solu­tion, Fields explained.

And although the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing Afghanistan’s army and police, the ques­tion that must be asked is how those forces will be sus­tained over time, he said.

“[The inspec­tor gen­er­al] cer­tain­ly sup­ports giv­ing Afghans a greater say in how mon­ey is spent,” Fields said, “but we also believe it is vital that Afghans be held account­able for U.S. funds chan­neled through the Afghan insti­tu­tions.”

Fields’ team already has begun assess­ing what the Unit­ed States and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty are doing to build Afghan insti­tu­tions to deter cor­rup­tion and strength­en rule of law, he said, tar­get­ing sys­tems cur­rent­ly in place to see how Afghans exert con­trol and demon­strate account­abil­i­ty.

Fields said his team also is review­ing the civil­ian por­tion of the inter­a­gency surge in Afghanistan, not­ing that this audit will seek to mea­sure the effec­tive­ness of per­son­nel and whether or not they’re being “effec­tive­ly uti­lized to achieve strate­gic goals.”

Ulti­mate­ly, he said, the Afghan gov­ern­ment must do its part to be respon­si­ble and account­able to ensure that inter­na­tion­al-pro­vid­ed funds are not wast­ed.

“We are … pre­pared to pro­vide the expand­ed over­sight nec­es­sary to detect and deter waste, fraud and abuse of the increas­ing U.S. fund­ing for this recon­struc­tion effort,” Fields said. “The suc­cess of this strat­e­gy depends not only on how the U.S. imple­ments its recon­struc­tion pro­gram; it also depends on the actions of the Afghan gov­ern­ment.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)