‘17 years after U.S. invaded Afghanistan, problems remains endemic’

September 24, 2018

TEHRAN - The staggering failures of the U.S. and its allies in war-ravaged Afghanistan have been documented by many global think tanks and written about by many seasoned regional observers.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the U.S. watchdog in Afghanistan, in its quarterly reports has been documenting how the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. in Afghanistan were being lost to corruption, waste and futile efforts.

The quarterly SIGAR reports illustrate the failure of U.S. led coalition forces to bring peace to Afghanistan, to eliminate terrorism, and to dismantle the burgeoning opium economy.

John Sopko, who has served as the special inspector general of the watchdog for past six years, is clearly disillusioned. He admits that the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan has been a failure.

In an interview with Canada’s Global News, Sopko bluntly noted that 17 years after Western nations invaded Afghanistan, problems remain endemic. The capabilities of Afghan security forces remain questionable, corruption remains endemic and rampant, and opium production continues to fuel insurgency, complicating matters.

“You go to bed with dogs, you wake up with fleas,” said Sopko. “That happened in Afghanistan.”

“These are problems we still have to face. Some of them we contributed to. On corruption, we threw gasoline on the fire,” he said, referring to former warlords empowered by the U.S.

An escalation in terrorist attacks and fighting between the Afghan security forces and insurgents in different parts of the country has pushed the death toll of civilians this year to a record high – 1,692 civilians killed by June 30, according to the UN. And despite Trump administration upping the ante, sending more troops to Afghanistan, the security situation on the ground remains unchanged.

In August, Taliban forces overran and briefly captured the strategic city of Ghazni. Today, Taliban is believed to be controlling a large chunk of area in provinces. SIGAR estimates only around 56 percent of the country's districts under government control, and a third of Afghanistan “contested.”

In its July quarterly report, SIGAR reported the Afghan National Army was at 86 percent of its authorized strength, 31,084 soldiers short of its goal. But sources say the actual numbers could be even worse.

The ambitious counter-narcotics campaign of the U.S. led coalition is another grim story of disaster. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the area of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased to a record 328,000 hectares in 2017, up 63 percent compared with a year earlier.

Opium production skyrocketed 87 percent to a record 9,000 metric tons. This despite the billions of dollars pumped into the campaign.

Sopko is not the only foreign official disappointed with the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Gen. Nichoson, the outgoing commander of the U.S. led coalition forces in Afghanistan, in his farewell speech recently, also seemed disillusioned, appealing all sides to end the protracted war.

“It is in the best interest of the U.S., its allies and the people of Afghanistan if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan. Seventeen years of war have only brought death and destruction, without any results,” said Shahzad Zaman, a Kabul-based analyst.

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