month we will debate tax reform and upcoming tax cuts, and a logical
follow-up thought to the tax reform debate is "why does the federal
government cost so much to run?"
of us will answer that question differently - possibly depending on
our political persuasion - but there's overwhelming bipartisan
agreement on the need to reduce "waste, fraud and abuse."
is why we should all applaud the work of internal government groups
like the Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstruction, or
SIGAR, dedicated to reporting on waste, fraud and abuse in our
nation's longest war. SIGAR makes quarterly reports to Congress on
where our money went and conducts investigations on fraud and
enforcement on the Afghanistan conflict, which began in 2001.
you think like me, you might have this vague gnawing sense that
pursuing a perpetual war against a shadowy non-state enemy with no end
in sight is the surest way to blow our nation's budget. When you read
a SIGAR report, that vague gnawing becomes very specific, with cold
hard numbers attached to it.
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just one example of $70 billion in waste. A recent report by
SIGAR studied the cost of building up the Afghan National Defense and
Security Forces, or ANDSF. The money appears mostly wasted.
2005, officials estimated a $7.2 billion price tag for building
up the ANDSF. Bolstering internal police and security forces is an
important and logical step toward reducing the U.S. military presence
there. As the SIGAR report describes in excruciating detail, 15 years
and $70 billion later, our efforts at capacity-building have
utterly failed. Afghanistan cannot keep its own peace, and the local
security forces are wholly dependent on U.S. support, both financially
devil of this failure is in the details of the report, but the waste,
fraud, and abuse is nothing short of mind-boggling.
the obvious, like the $500 million spent on secondhand Italian
transport planes that couldn't operate in Afghanistan's harsh
like the unspecified cost of what are believed to be thousands of
"ghost" soldiers on the payroll of the Afghan army, basically paid for
by us. One estimate in 2015 put that cost at $300 million in
Afghan Ministry of Defense Headquarters, originally budgeted at
$48.7 million, ended up costing $154.7 million and took five
more years to build than expected.
given the amount of money we spent, the history of training the Afghan
forces is often one of equipment shortages. In the early years of U.S.
rebuilding efforts, Afghan units would attempt to seize Taliban
weapons caches because they were better quality than what they could
get from us.
preferred former Soviet-era weapons because they broke down less
easily than the higher-tech U.S. weaponry. We provided high-tech
solutions, but we built the wrong level of military and security
technology for local conditions.
estimated 70 percent of Afghanistan's population is illiterate.
What that means is that after we deliver state-of-the art military
electronics equipment, and then something goes wrong, the equipment
can't be fixed using local expertise. So the U.S. military ends up
resuming control of the abandoned high-tech equipment. According to
SIGAR, Afghan soldiers remain totally dependent on our high-tech close
air support and reconnaissance technology to be effective.
mismatched technology problem is, in fact, both a cause and a giant
metaphor for wasted expenditures in Afghanistan. We continue to build
expensive high-tech solutions unsustainable in the Afghan context.
estimated in July 2017 that the U.S. has spent $714 billion
on the war effort so far. An academic study by Professor Neta Crawford
of Boston University, a specialist in tallying war costs, estimates an
even higher cost to the Afghanistan war, at $877 billion.
cost can only increase from here, because the ongoing problem is that
we can't seem to walk away financially, without the country's finances
collapsing. The Afghanistan government, according to SIGAR's July 2017
quarterly report, is on total financial life-support from the U.S.
do we know about this dependency? Here are the numbers: The
Afghanistan government raised $2.1 billion in total revenue in
2016. It costs around $7.3 billion a year to run the government
with an estimated $4.9 billion spent on the Afghan forces alone.
Who pays the difference of roughly $5 billion each year? That
would be you and me, with some help from international donors.
as if we built a $50,000 Habitat-For-Humanity house for someone who
badly needed a home, but then burdened the house with technology,
utilities and taxes appropriate for a $2 million mansion. The
"lucky" recipient now has an unsustainably expensive albatross of a
house. He can't afford to live there. The Afghanistan people cannot
afford the armed forces, and government, that we've built for them.
no foreseeable path to fiscal sustainability for the Afghanistan
government. So, we're stuck there.
very little to celebrate over the blown $70 billion in rebuilding
Afghan security forces, or even the between $714 billion and $877
billion spent to conduct the war since 2001.
you're worried about the rising cost of our government, check out
SIGAR's reports and the progress made in our perpetual war, with
ill-defined goals, against a shadowy enemy that can't be defeated.