RPT: ANALYSIS - Trump's Crackdown On Afghan Government Unlikely To Curb US-Fueled Corruption

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 19th October, 2019) The Trump administration will likely fail to contain corruption in Afghanistan that has reached record levels as a direct result of the US occupation and failed reconstruction programs, analysts told Sputnik.

Corruption in Afghanistan has been in the spotlight more than ever lately with presidential candidates exchanging fraud allegations as votes are tailed from the country's September 28 election. Not to mention, a new scandal has erupted involving an Afghan cabinet minister and a US-based think tank founded by President Ashraf Ghani.

On Wednesday, US Acting Assistant Secretary for South Asia, Alice Wells, told Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah that Kabul must do more to counter corruption and abuse of donor funding.

The lecture came less than a month after the State Department had suspended aid and publicly reprimanded the Ghani administration.

On September 19, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that "due to identified Afghan Government corruption and financial mismanagement," the Trump administration cut off approximately $100 million in aid to Kabul that was earmarked for large energy infrastructure projects.

In the first place, some experts wondered why, after eighteen years of silence, the State Department chose to publicly blast the Afghan government just ahead of the country's presidential election.

In any case, Brookings Institution Scholar Michael O'Hanlon believes the US move to suspend aid is likely a bit too little as well as too late.

"Cutting $100 million may be a modest step compared to the size of our overall aid budget there - and the scale of the corruption problem," O'Hanlon told Sputnik.

Although the recent focus has been on the Ghani administration, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), for years, in several audits has also blamed American government agencies for wasting billions of dollars.

In fact, US public and/or private sector entities often seem to have involvement in many of the cases of corruption. The latest scandal tied to Ghani's US-based institute is one example.

On Friday, Tolo news reported that the Afghan Senate referred the country's finance chief to the Attorney General for allegedly taking a $255,000 salary from the Institute for State Effectiveness - a foundation Ghani founded in Washington.

Reports also surfaced that Ghani's firm reaped a healthy profit in recent years off Afghan government contracts including a project to design the budgeting process for the Afghan reconstruction trust - a fund that managed more than $10 billion in donations from partner countries. Watchdogs slammed the trust fund budgeting process, presumably designed by Ghani's US-based consultants, for poor oversight and mismanagement.

Moreover, according to leaked diplomatic cables, the United States was well aware of the fact that during the Karzai administration hundreds of millions in funding was illegally shipped to accounts in the Gulf States. However, the United States, outside of a few slaps on the wrist, did nothing to slow the reconstruction funds that filled the coffers of corrupt Afghan politicians, warlords and even the Taliban, a former State Department official told Sputnik last week.

The root cause of most of the corruption in Afghanistan has been mismanagement and poor oversight of US reconstruction and security aid. And, according to some experts, American taxpayers will be shouldering the burden of both the failed rebuilding effort and the trillion-dollar occupation itself which failed to stabilize the country.

US expenditures and obligations have now reached a combined total of $132 billion in rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, SIGAR reported earlier this year.

SIGAR chief John Sopko told Congress in 2018 that his agency had reviewed $53 billion in spending and found nearly $16 billion was lost to fraud and abuse. This puts the United States on track to waste nearly $40 billion in reconstruction spending overall.

As a result of SIGAR investigations, an estimated 800 contractors - including some based in the United States - have been suspended or debarred from Afghan reconstruction bids due to corruption, fraud or poor performance.

In terms of the war itself, Washington has spent up to $975 billion since the United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, analysts and authors of many books on the topic including Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire, said that the United States does not understand how to properly address the conflict in Afghanistan.

US efforts have not only fueled corruption in Afghanistan but will have an "unseen" drain on the American economy, the duo told Sputnik.

"No matter how you tally the already $1 trillion Dollars spent to invade and occupy Afghanistan, the costs of the Afghan war will continue to drain US taxpayers with veterans medical and disability payments expected to reach an additional $1 trillion over the next 40 years," Gould and Fitzgerald said. "The interest alone will rise into the trillions of dollars."

Gould and Fitzgerald are very familiar with US involvement in Afghanistan - they were the first Western journalists allowed into the country in the 1980s during the anti-Soviet jihad.

"Afghanistan represents the saddest commentary yet on a dysfunctional American government's detachment from reality," Gould and Fitzgerald said. "And that [American] government still doesn't get the message."