US ‘overcorrected’ in Afghanistan with aid, says John F. Sopko

KABUL (Agencies): John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) told Congress on Tuesday that as the Taliban became resurgent, the US “overcorrected” and poured billions of dollars into a weak economy, which was unable to absorb it.

In 2004, US aid to Afghanistan “exceeded the 45 percent threshold” Sopko told the US congress, and in 2007 and 2010, it totaled “more than 100 percent,” he said. Sopko cited studies saying it is “generally accepted” that the amount of foreign aid a country’s economy can absorb at any given time is “15-45% of the country’s GDP.”

The inspector general criticized the lapsed reporting on performance, saying that while the 2009 US “rule-of-law strategy” for Afghanistan contained 27 specific performance measures, the 2013 strategy contained no performance measures at all. “If you have no metrics for success, how can you tell if you’re succeeding,” Sopko asked.

He also said that his office’s “Lessons from the US Experience in Afghanistan,” published in Sept 2016, examined how the US government “understood the risks of corruption in Afghanistan, how the US response to corruption evolved, and the effectiveness of that response.”

“To date, SIGAR’s Lessons Learned Program has offered more than 120 recommendations to executive branch agencies and Congress. To the best of our knowledge, 13 of those have been implemented, and at least 20 are in progress,” said Sopko.

The SIGAR “Lessons Learned” progam started in 2014 and consulted experts and current and former US officials about Afghanistan.

The recent publication of thousands of previously-classified documents by the Washington Post, called the “The Afghanistan Papers,” drew heavily on Sopko’s Lessons Learned interviews.

“For all the lives and treasure the US and its coalition partners have expended in Afghanistan, and for Afghans themselves who have suffered the most from decades of violence, the very least we can do is to learn from our successes and failures,” he added.

Congress should “consider conditioning on-budget assistance on rigorous assessments of Afghan ministries and international trust funds having strong accountability measures and internal controls in place,” Sopko said.

He also said that the US Congress should consider requiring all federal agencies operating in Afghanistan to provide reports to Congress disclosing risks to major reconstruction projects and programs, and disclosing important events or developments as they occur. In light of the ongoing peace negotiations, Congress should consider the urgent need for the Administration to plan for what happens after the United States reaches a peace deal with the Taliban, SOPKO said.