WASHINGTON -- Afghan reconstruction efforts remain severely hampered even after nearly $100 billion in spending over the last 10 years, according to a new watchdog report. The most immediate challenge stems from the insistence by Afghanistan's government that the private army of hired guns providing security for ongoing projects be replaced with Afghan locals, who do not appear to be up to the job, the report noted.
The report's most urgent warning concerns the "imminent transition" from private security contractors (PSC) to the state-owned Afghan Public Protection Force.
Steven J. Trent, the acting special inspector general, expressed concerns that as many as 29 major USAID projects costing nearly $1.5 billion are at risk of full or partial termination "if the APPF cannot provide the needed security." About half that amount has already been spent.
And whether it can is very much an open question, Trent wrote. The U.S. embassy, the Afghan government and the U.S.-led military forces agreed a year ago to check the progress of the Afghan Public Protection Force at the 6-, 9-, and 12-month marks.
"The 6-month assessment, completed in September 2011, found that the APPF was not ready to assume any of the essential PSC responsibilities to meet contract requirements -- such as training, equipping, and deploying guard forces," the report pointed out. "[T]he December assessment, which would have been at the 9-month mark, has not yet been made public" and "the deadline for the 12-month assessment has passed."
The SIGAR report also cited a litany of failed anti-corruption efforts, including the following:
- "The Afghan Attorney General’s Office (AGO) continued to avoid prosecuting significant corruption cases this quarter: it did not prosecute any high-level officials at the national or provincial levels."
- The High Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption's "core functions of combating corruption remained mostly ineffective this quarter, and some have deteriorated."
- The U.S. Department of Justice continued its suspension of training of the Afghan government's Anti-Corruption Unit, with the Department of State, noting that training will resume only if its work "is taken seriously."
- The Afghan government's Major Crimes Task Force "made no progress" in getting the Afghan Attorney General's office to prosecute the public corruption cases it had developed.
- The National Assembly’s legislative committee rejected a draft law to strengthen government audits.
- "A policy aimed at implementing a merit-based hiring system of provincial and deputy-provincial governors has remained stalled since May 2011, when the policy was suspended."
- "The Afghan government’s progress in implementing asset verification for government officials continued to fall short of U.S. expectations."
- "Customs collections are very susceptible to fraud and corruption at all major entry points, and the Afghan government continued to make little progress counteracting the problem."
- And the Afghan government's passport agency "is beset by corruption" with staffers illegally selling passports on the street outside the department.