On the 17th Anniversary of 9/11, the man whose job it is to track American reconstruction spending in Afghanistan said the war was a “stalemate” marred by a lack of transparency regarding more than a hundred billion dollars of money earmarked for reconstruction efforts. He also said the Afghanis, not the American government, were the ones demanding critical information about the war’s failures be kept secret from the American people.
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John Sopko, who since July 2012 has been Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, levied the criticisms in a conversation with Law&Crime Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross.
In response to questions by Ross as to how much money has been “wasted or thrown away,” Sopko said, “that’s hard to determine,” but then added, “realize, it’s been billions.” By way of one example, Sopko pointed to more than six billion dollars U.S. authorities spent on a counter-narcotics program. Yet Afghanistan is still the largest producer of heroine in the world, Sopko said. “There’s no end in sight; we don’t even have a strategy to fight the narcotics.”
Narcotics account for more than 30% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, he added. Without dealing with that issue effectively, “you’re never going to win in Afghanistan; you’re never going to have democracy,” Sopko said. Narcotics payments flow through the hands of corrupt officials and the Taliban.
Yet much of Sopko’s work has been classified. He’s prohibited from discussing a lot of what he knows in an open forum. While the American government has attempted to declassify information, he said, the Afghan government has resisted moves to make more information public. The reason is because the Afghani government only will work with the U.S. State Department if secrecy is honored in a number of critical areas.
“We don’t know a lot,” Sopko said. “It’s not that we need to know our tactics” or “who we’re going to fight tomorrow . . . we’re talking about basic information the American taxpayer should know about that’s being classified,” he said.
Sopko then decried the ridiculousness of some of the secrets.
“The Taliban knows what’s going on. The Afghan people know what’s going on. They know what roads they can’t go down; they know what districts are controlled by the Taliban . . . the only people who don’t know are the people paying for it . . . they don’t know how their money is being spent and if they’re getting the best bang for their buck . . . that’s outrageous,” Sopko said. “I’m hoping, with a new national security adviser in Afghanistan . . . maybe that will talk some sense into those officials . . . the U.S. military wants to declassify this stuff . . . this should be frustrating for every taxpayer.”
In response to questions about the American response to drug trafficking issues in Afghanistan, Sopko said the administration of President Donald Trump had a “good proposal” to go after major traffickers and suppliers. “Ignore the farmers,” he cautioned, because they “get pennies on the opium crop . . . go after the big fish.”
But Sopko said the White House “oversold” a bombing program aimed to disrupt the Afghan narcotics trade. “I think you need to be honest with the American people and the Afghan people,” he said.
[Image via the Law&Crime Network.]