MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.
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And Im Michele Norris.
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Much of that money went to contractors for everything from training Afghan security forces to building schools. These projects are crucial to the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy there.
More than eight years in to the war, the government agency in charge of tracking these projects has just issued its first major report. The conclusion: Billions have been spent but no one knows for sure where all that money went.
NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN: Between 2007 and 2009, the U.S. government paid $18 billion to thousands of contractors doing reconstruction in Afghanistan. Patrick Peterson wrote the report for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He says the big problem is that agencies doling out those funds, mainly the Pentagon and the State Department, dont have a clear way to track this kind of spending.
Mr. PATRICK PETERSON (Auditor, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) So there are contractors who provide food and meal service for our troops. That's not easily distinguishable from a contract used to, say, build a road, conduct a police-training program in Afghanistan, or conduct an anti-drug operation in Afghanistan. That's the challenge.
MARTIN: But Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says this is no obscure accounting challenge. The U.S. contracting problems in Afghanistan have huge consequences for the U.S. military strategy.
Dr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): Has it seriously jeopardized our ability to win the war? The answer is yes.
MARTIN: Not being able to track reconstruction dollars means not knowing if projects designed to win over the Afghan people are working. At the same time, Cordesman says, lax U.S. contracting rules have, in some ways, actually fueled parts of the insurgency.
Dr. CORDESMAN: You don't know whether the money is being used by powerbrokers or corrupt officials or people who are using it to build up local power or, for that matter, simply to pay off the Taliban and other insurgents.
MARTIN: The reports issued this week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction are the first to give a comprehensive look at how all contracting dollars are being spent. The big question is why it's taken so long.
Again, Anthony Cordesman.
Dr. CORDESMAN: This might have been excusable going into Afghanistan in 2002. We had no real experience in doing anything like this. More than eight years later, there's absolutely no conceivable excuse.
MARTIN: Congress didn't pass legislation creating the Afghanistan Inspector General's office until 2008. Now that the office is up and running, it's produced a report that basically says the reconstruction records are so bad that it's almost impossible to review them.
Here's Inspector General Arnold Fields.
Major General ARNOLD FIELDS (Special Inspector General, Afghanistan Reconstruction): I and my staff are to conduct audits and investigations of funds appropriated and otherwise made available for reconstruction in Afghanistan. So if I cannot identify specifically those funds for reconstruction in Afghanistan, then I'm unable to carry out the full measure of the legislation.
MARTIN: Earlier this year though, the reconstruction office was itself audited and got a failing grade on management and standards. A group of U.S. senators has called on the White House to fire the special inspector general. They say you can't expect to fix the contracting system in Afghanistan, if the office meant to do the fixing is broken, too.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.
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