Almost one trillion dollars have been spent in the Afghanistan situation

Waste In Afghanistan

By —— Bio and Archives--February 24, 2019

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Waste In AfghanistanWe think of Afghanistan as a nation, but it is not, at least not by our western understanding of the term reports Dan Rather. In truth, Afghanistan is a collection of provinces inhabited by tribes,. Although no ethnic group has a majority, Pashtuns and Tajiks make up roughly 40 and 30 percent of the population, respectively. Hazaras and Uzbeks constitute another 10 percent each. That said, many of the tribes have subsets, and even some of the tribal subsets have subsets. 1

Although civilization here is very old, civility is not. Fiercely held tribal and ethnic loyalties have given rise to grudges, hostilities and hatreds held for centuries, if not for millennia. These are coupled with a split-second readiness to settle quarrels in a deadly fashion.


Rather reports this in his 2012 book, “We have taken it upon ourselves to remake Afghanistan society in the face of staggering odds. In a fragmented country with no history of democratic institutions, we are trying to establish a legitimately elected central government, create a national army and police force, bring equal (or at least better) status to women and teach children and adults of both sexes to read. We are also trying to wean farmers off Afghanistan’s leading cash crop, opium. More than a decade after we first went into Afghanistan, it is now far more difficult to understand why we are still spending billion of dollars and thousands of lives in this war.” 1

Yet seven years after Rather’s report, US spending in Afghanistan is plagued by ‘far too many instances of poor planning, sloppy execution, theft, corruption, and lack of accountability,’ said the federal official charged with keeping track of reconstruction effort in that country. 2

From faulty power stations and shoddy buildings to billions wasted, new evidence shows it was a problem. Reports and audits tell a similar story. The United States is achieving very little in the way of sustainable development in Afghanistan, even with the enormous amount of time and resources that have been invested. To continue in this manner after almost two decades is to show that we have learned nothing, despite years of evidence of little progress, adds Jerrod Laber. 3

“Congress has appropriated $126 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since fiscal year 2002. By 2014, total appropriations for Afghanistan reconstruction, after adjustment for inflation, had already exceed the total US aid committed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after World War II.” This tally does not include the cost of fighting the war, which has been more than $750 billion. The total direct cost of US involvement in Afghanistan since 2001 is rapidly approaching $1 trillion, and this does not include, for example, future liabilities for veteran care necessary as a result of the war or interest on borrowed money. John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, concluded, “The United States threw itself into reconstruction with haste and hubris, with untested assumptions and unrealistic expectations, and with piles of cash and tight deadlines for spending it—too much, too fast, with too little oversight.” 2

Sopko adds that US counter narcotics initiatives are “one of our top Afghan reconstruction fantasies or facts—depending on who you work for. “Despite spending $8.4 billion on counter narcotics in Afghanistan, poppy cultivation continues generally unabated.” 4

From 2016 to 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 63 percent, to 328,000 hectares; the estimated total production of opium shot up by 87 percent to 9,000 metric tons. That’s the most in Afghanistan history. There is simply nothing in Afghanistan that produces more jobs than the opium economy. However, according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, Afghan heroin constitutes only a small portion of US opioid consumption. Most US heroin comes from Mexico and Columbia, and lately also perhaps from Guatemala. 5

How did poppy farming get so important?

Fariba Mawa reports, “The Soviet invasion destroyed traditional farming and replaced it with poppy cultivation. But it wasn’t just the war that increased the drug trade. In Helmand province, American agriculture aid projects from the 1950s had advocated modern farming techniques on incompatible soil. These techniques led to eroded soil which made it possible for only a few crops to grow—the most lucrative of which was poppy. Also in Helmand, mujahideen commander Mullah Nasim forced farmers to grow opium. The
mujahideen and their cohorts discovered the lucrative benefits of heroin. As poppy framing took hold in the north in Badakhshan and Balkh provinces, Afghanistan eventually turned into a one-stop shop for drugs: the opium was cultivated there, processed into heroin and trafficked.” 6

Questionable Spending on Reconstruction

The US spent $28 million on special camouflage uniforms for the Afghan army that “had not been shown to be any more effective than standard patterns,” John Sopko writes. “In addition, the pattern chosen was designed for a woodland setting, while only about 2 percent of Afghanistan is forest.”2

Here are a few other colorful failures described in Sopko’s written testimony:

  • Purchasing nearly a half-billion dollars worth of second-hand transport planes that were unusable in Afghanistan and were scrapped for $32,000.
  • Building a dry-fire range for Afghan security force training that literally began dissolving when it rained.
  • Constructing schools and clinics with unsafe walls and ceilings, unfinished and dangerous electrical systems, and no provision for the costs of supplying and sustaining them.
  • Paying for roads that soon deteriorate due to poor construction and failure to plan for repairs. 2
  • Sergio Gor, Senator Rand Paul’s deputy chief of staff visited Afghanistan in 2018. In his written testimony, he focused on one terrible project: a would-be Marriott hotel in Kabul. Eleven years after the project was launched with $60 million from the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Gor “walked the halls of this deserted, unfinished shell of a dream, featuring barren rooms, empty elevator shafts, and no electric power.” He said the hotel and an apartment building planned by the same delevoper that got $30 million from OPIC are “uninhabited and uninhabitable.” Gor adds, “Every day that we distribute money, people squander or steal it, and no one is ever held accountable. And the process repeats itself.” 7

Overall, there is a lot of spent billions that could have been used more effectively elsewhere. Think of this for a moment. As mentioned earlier almost one trillion dollars have been spent in the Afghanistan situation. This is equivalent to 1,000 billion dollars. With a fraction of these billions one could have built Trump’s wall, improved infrastructure in the US and helped address the homeless issue among other items.



  1. Dan Rather, Rather Outspoken, (New York, Grand Central Publishing, 2012)
  2. Brain Doherty, “Afghanistan reconstruction: huge cost, meager benefits,” reason.com, May 10, 2018
  3. Jerrod A. Laber, “Can we admit now that Afghanistan reconstruction failed?”, the americanconservative.com, April 19, 2018
  4. Catherine Putz, “Afghanistan reconstruction: lies, damn lies, and statistics,” thediplomat.com, May 6, 2015
  5. Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Afghanistan’s opium production is through the roof- why Washington shouldn’t overact,” brookings.edu, November 21, 2017
  6. Fariba Nawa, Opium Nation, (New York, Harper Perennial, 2011)
  7. Testimony of Sergio Gor, Deputy Chief of Staff, Senator Rand Paul (R- KY), May 9, 2018



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Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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