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Afghanistan could become haven again for al-Qaida, U.S. watchdog warns

By Phillip Swarts

Wednesday - 5/8/2013, 6:11pm  ET

The chief U.S. watchdog in Afghanistan says he is deeply concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to take over security responsibility when U.S. troops withdraw next year and warned the country could once again become a safe haven for terrorists.

"Without adequate security, meaningful progress in Afghanistan is not possible," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko said in a speech Wednesday that gave a mixed review of the progress of Afghanistan's reconstruction.  "The reconstruction would come to a halt.  The Afghan state could not defend itself from terrorist threats.  Afghanistan could also once again become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and others that are determined to harm our nation."

The U.S. has spent more than $54 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces, more than half the $90 billion total in reconstruction aid spent in the nation.  But Sopko said some projects have been mismanaged or wasted money.  The Washington Guardian gave its Golden Hammer award for waste to one such example, a $7.3 million Afghan police headquarters complex that went largely unused.

And according to SIGAR's latest quarterly report to Congress, Afghan security forces are short of their staffing goals by 20,000 troops.  But, Sopko said, that's a best estimate, as getting an exact count on troops and police is difficult.

The political process also faces challenges.  Afghanistan's next presidential election is set for 2014, with a parliamentary election the following year.  But Sopko noted a report from Transparency International, a non-profit group that tracks corruption, that found people perceive Afghanistan as having one of the most corrupt governments in the world, tied with North Korea and Somalia.

Created by Congress in 2008, SIGAR is charged with overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to make sure projects are completed and that money is spent wisely.  The U.S. is planning to continue major assistance and support, but most of the the more than 60,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan will leave the country, following more than a decade of U.S. war after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sopko said the nation still has many hurdles to face.  A key indicator of the welfare of the population is the Gross Domestic Product, which measures the value of all goods and services produced by the nation.  Afghanistan's current GDP is $1,000 per person annually according to the International Monetary Fund.  In contrast, the United States' GDP is estimated to be $50,000 per person.

 

Read more of the Washington Guardian's coverage of Afghanistan reconstruction, including concerns several government agencies have had about the rebuilding effort and  a new hospital SIGAR said is too expensive to operate.