The Afghanistan Lessons America Refused To Learn
As the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan continues to brutally unfold, there are not a few “we told you so” lecturers out there. But nobody has earned their stripes more than the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Created by Congress in 2008, SIGAR’s job is to serve as independent oversight over the more than $140 billion dollars appropriated for the country’s reconstruction efforts.
For more than a decade, SIGAR has done yeoman’s work with regular reports showing how poorly the reconstruction efforts were going, how Afghanistan continued to fall under the Taliban’s control, and how the money being spent on infrastructure projects was feeding internal corruption rather than making the country safer. When Americans read stories about disastrous Afghanistan boondoggles (like a $43 million compressed natural gas station that should have cost $500,000), a SIGAR report is frequently the source. In 2018, Reason‘s Brian Doherty compiled many such stories from SIGAR’s reports.
SIGAR normally publishes a “lessons learned” annual report. This week they’ve published a report with a title that’s even blunter: “What We Need To Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghan Reconstruction.”
In the preface, Inspector General John F. Sopko gives only the barest mention of successes in Afghanistan, explaining that this new report documents, “how the U.S. government struggled to develop a coherent strategy, understand how long the reconstruction mission would take, ensure its projects were sustainable, staff the mission with trained professionals, account for the challenges posed by insecurity, tailor efforts to the Afghan context, and understand the impact of programs.”
“There have been bright spots—such as lower child mortality rates, increases in per capita GDP, and increased literacy rates,” he says, adding that “after spending 20 years and $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan, the U.S. government has many lessons it needs to learn.”
The 140-page report focuses on seven different areas where policy decisions in Afghanistan failed to achieve stability over a 20-year period. The most dama
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