Billions of US taxpayer dollars spent in Afghanistan were funnelled into the hands of corrupt elites and warlords, according to a damning report by the U.S. office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released earlier this month.
“While corruption in Afghanistan predates 2001, it has become far more serious and widespread since then,” noted John Sopko, head of SIGAR. “The result [of US/NATO intervention] in Afghanistan was systemic corruption – pervasive and entrenched, affecting the courts, the army and police, banking and other critical sectors.”
Earlier this year, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the third most corrupt country in the world, at 166 out of 168 countries.
U.S. Empowers Warlords And Enables Corruption
The SIGAR report confirms what Afghans have said for years: foreign intervention has resulted in the rise of warlords as the de facto rulers of the country.
“In many cases, US actions legitimized and empowered a class of strongmen who had conflicted allegiances between their own power networks and the nascent Afghan state. In this way, the US helped to lay a foundation for continued impunity, weak rule of law, and the growth of corruption,” the report states. An annual survey of Afghans by the ASIA foundation has also found a dramatic increase in reported corruption. When asked to rate how much of a problem corruption was in their daily lives, 42% of Afghans reported it as a ‘major problem’ in 2006. By 2016, that number had risen to 61%.
The SIGAR report concludes that the US government ‘failed to recognize’ the threat of corruption between 2001 and 2009, and that the response to dealing with the problem of corruption after 2009 was ‘weak’. SIGAR points to the massive influx of aid – sometimes more than 100% of Afghanistan’s GDP – with little oversight as a major reason for corruption. In 2015, another SIGAR report found that $45 billion US taxpayer dollars went ‘missing’ in Afghanistan – the Pentagon did not begin tracking where money was spent in Afghanistan until 2010.
While the findings of the SIGAR report are damning, the conclusion that the US government and military ‘failed to recognize’ the problem seems unlikely. A 2010 report to the US House of Representatives titled “Warlord, Inc.” found that “the Department of Defense designed a contract that put responsibility for the security of vital US supplies on contractors and their unaccountable security providers. This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others.” In short, the Pentagon was fully aware that they were engaged in corrupt dealings in Afghanistan.
Since 2009, when the findings on corruption first came into the public eye, there has been ‘limited’ government response to tackle the problem, SIGAR found. Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam, head of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network, told Russian news agency Sputnik that “the level of level of corruption in Afghanistan is very high. There are many reasons, but the principal reason is a lack of political will to tackle corruption within the government and within the international community which is backing the Afghan government.”
Fuelling The Drug Trade
The free flow of US dollars into the hands of warlords has also fuelled the country’s thriving drug trade. Today, Afghanistan produces an estimated 90% of the world’s opium. Under the Taliban, the trade had been nearly eliminated. This influx of opium – and especially heroin, an opium derivative – onto the world market has contributed to an increased epidemic of drug use worldwide – including on the streets of the U.S. itself. The drug trade has also funded terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda – the very enemies the U.S. purports to be ‘fighting’.
Empire Building, Not Nation Building
The US claims to be ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan, but what sort of nation are they building? Afghanistan today is more fractured and insecure than it was under the Taliban. It is not truly run by the Afghan government, which holds little real power outside of Kabul, but by warlords and various terrorist organizations. Many of Afghanistan’s professed ‘gains’ since 2001 have been nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and themselves fuelled by corruption. Take, for example, the report published last year by BuzzFeed which found that many of the schools that USAID claimed to have built had no teachers, no students, or in some cases, never existed in the first place. The same report also found that the money for building these schools often went to the hands of local warlords and other shady characters. The majority of Afghans have seen no fundamental improvements to their lives since 2001. The war has simply enriched a small class of wealthy elite and shifted power from the Taliban to murderous warlords.
The war has also enriched wealthy elite in the US and internationally. US defense contractors have made billions on the war. Defense giant Northrop Grumman earned $325 million on failed counternarcotics operations alone. Academi (formerly known as the infamous Blackwater USA) has made $309 million on counternarcotics.
Canadian contractor SNC Lavalin came under fire for their questionable use of taxpayer dollars on the construction of the Dahla Dam – a $50 million project which has been plagued by engineering problems. Controversy erupted when it was revealed that SNC Lavalin hired the Watan Group as security for the project – a company which had been blacklisted for its ties to warlords.
Much of the US and international involvement in Afghanistan has been hidden by the use of “private contractors”, which provide not only logistical support to the US and NATO, but often are used as hired guns as well (though they are referred to as ‘security contractors’). As of April 2015, there were nearly 40,000 contractors working in Afghanistan.
What the US and NATO have built in Afghanistan is not an independent, democratic nation, but their own empire. Democracy and social progress cannot be brought to a nation at gunpoint. All that has been built in Afghanistan is a system of corruption which lines the pockets not only of local warlords and elites, but major US and multinational corporations. The interests of these corporations are not to benefit Afghans, but to make massive profits off security, defense, resource extraction, and cheap labour. Furthermore, the US has created a giant military and diplomatic infrastructure in Afghanistan in order to use the whole country as a military base and gain a strategic and economic advantage over rising global economic competitors such as China and Russia.
End The War Now
Over 400,000 Afghans have been killed directly or indirectly as a result of this war (Watson Institute, Brown University) as well as thousands of foreign soldiers. Billions of taxpayer dollars from the US and other NATO countries have been funnelled into the war as well – the US alone has spent over a trillion dollars on the war in Afghanistan.
But to what end have these dollars and lives been spent? Afghans certainly haven’t benefitted, with security, corruption, and quality of life getting worse. Ordinary Canadians, Americans, and citizens of other countries involved in the war haven’t benefitted either – rather than defeating terrorism in the country, we have only seen it spread around the world.
The only group to have benefitted from this war are the warlords, terrorists, and a small number of wealthy elite in Afghanistan and internationally. We cannot support a war which has cost so many lives, not to mention taxpayer dollars which could have gone to education, health care, and other programs within our countries.
The war in Afghanistan is far from over. Nearly 10,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of contractors. International governments – including the Canadian government – continue to fund dubious projects in the country, often funnelling money into the hands of warlords.
The US and NATO have proven beyond a doubt that they have no interest in creating a better life for Afghan people. That task must be left to Afghans themselves, no matter how difficult it may be. We must not forget this war, or the Afghan people. It is our responsibility to continue to demand an end to this war and the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and contractors from Afghanistan.
Follow Nita Palmer on Twitter:@NGP1z0
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