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How US military funds are ending up in the hands of the Taliban.
Out in the field, officers share stories of epic development mismanagement. One captain in Khost Province relates problems relating to the lack of transition between rapidly rotating development teams. “We didn’t know what was built two or three rotations ago.”
And there wasn’t even electronic institutional memory: the Provincial Reconstruction Team lost all of the electronic data relating to tens of millions of dollars of development projects. There was no back-up. He speaks of dozens of schools built, but no provisions for teachers. “Kabul hadn’t figured out sustainability,” he said.
In Laghman Province, soldiers laugh about empty U.S.-built schools being occupied by Afghan families — “and brothels,” one calls, perhaps joking. ADT Capt. Robert Cline is an agricultural specialist and prosecutor specializing in murder cases in civilian life. He talks about trying to locate about a dozen vet clinics that USAID built in Khost Province a few years prior, so the agricultural development specialists could use them for animal-husbandry outreach projects. The USAID staffers didn’t know where the clinics where. “Just give me GPS coordinates, village name, anything — we’re the military, we can find them,” Cline asked the USAID staffers. It took many weeks and multiple contacts for someone to finally come up with a list. When the ADT tracked the clinics down, they found almost all of them were looted of equipment and the solar panel generators to run the vital vaccine refrigerators. In one case, the entire building was missing.
Toward the end of every fiscal cycle, there was a land-rush of proposals for expensive, hurriedly organized projects designed to do little more than ensure all of the allocated funds were spent. Among the development careerists who were cycling through Afghanistan on quick deployments, the kudos went to those who spent their money — period. Oversight, continuity and effectiveness had a distinctly lower priority.
“In the past, there was a strong emphasis on getting projects out there,” said Maj. Carlos Moya, a Brigade Civil Affairs Officer in the RC-East command, speaking of the 2002 to 2008 era. “Somewhere along the line, we kind of lost the focus on ensuring QA. I guess we kind of bit off more than we can chew.”
The years of unfettered development spending stimulated inflation and fed a culture of corruption, which the U.S. development players have learned to accommodate. In military training sessions prior to deployment, development officers hear professors and diplomats teach them the difference between “functional” corruption (such as an Afghan policeman taking bribes because he is underpaid) and “non-functional” corruption (an Afghan official building another Dubai mansion with his ill-gotten gains).