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SIGAR: Afghanistan aid money squandered on conferences

Jul. 29, 2013 - 02:20PM   |  
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A U.S. program designed to promote stability in war-ravaged Afghanistan has spent $47 million money on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim, according to a report released Monday by the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

SIGAR has found waste under just about every rock it’s kicked over in Afghanistan. It recently found that a brand-spanking new $34 million headquarters for the Marines at Camp Leatherneck was unnecessary and may never be used.

Monday’s report carries this title: “Stability in Key Areas (SIKA) Programs: After 16 Months and $47 Million Spent, USAID Had Not Met Essential Program Objectives.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in a letter, objected to SIGAR’s findings and even the title of its report. It suggested that SIGAR misunderstood the program’s purpose and also noted that it had made significant progress as of July 1 in delivering grants.

SIGAR wasn’t having much of that.

“It’s troubling that after 16 months, this program has not issued its first community grant,” said SIGAR’s top watchdog, John Sopko. “Rather, it has spent nearly $50 million — roughly a quarter of the total program budget — on conferences, overhead and workshops. This looks like bad value for U.S. taxpayers and the Afghan people.”

Ouch.

The idea behind SIKA: with local input, determine projects that could benefit Afghans in bad neighborhoods and let the USAID program fund them quickly. That could mean road projects or canal maintenance.

The problem: “Although USAID had disbursed approximately $47 million for the four SIKA contracts as of March 31, 2013, none of the funds had gone to grants that fund community projects, such as those that are “labor intensive or productive infrastructure projects,” as called for in the SIKA contracts to address sources of instability.

There are about 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They’re scheduled to come home by the end of 2014, although a residual force — size to be determined — is expected to remain.

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