WASHINGTON Feb 12 Afghanistan's government does
not appear able to manage the large amounts of direct aid that
the United States and other countries have pledged, the U.S.
watchdog monitoring funds spent on Afghan reconstruction said.
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan
Reconstruction, raised a red flag over U.S. plans to give Kabul
billions of dollars more in direct aid instead of providing
assistance through contractors and non-governmental
organizations operating on behalf of the American government.
"The Afghan government does not appear to have the capacity
to manage the amount of funding envisioned in the international
community's pledges of direct assistance," Sopko told a House
committee in testimony prepared for a Wednesday House of
He said oversight provisions, such as doling out funds
incrementally instead of in large lump sums, should be built
into direct aid programs "to protect the American taxpayer."
Sopko said his office, known as SIGAR, would be monitoring
the uses of U.S. aid, including whether programs made clear
contributions to American national interests, and whether
Afghans needed or even wanted them. So far, the United States
has invested almost $100 billion in Afghan reconstruction
efforts, he said.
Afghanistan is regularly ranked as one of the world's most
corrupt countries. More than $16 billion pledged in future aid
at an international donor's conference in Tokyo last year was
tied to a serious effort to crack down on graft.
But in an attempt to provide Afghanistan with more control
over aid, international donors also promised to increase the
amount of direct aid to Kabul.
Sopko said the U.S. government had committed to channel at
least 50 percent of its development assistance through the
Afghan national budget, but he had seen little progress in
cleaning up fraud.
"Despite stated commitments from the Afghan government to
address this problem, we continue to see reluctance on the part
of Afghan officials to take serious action," he said in written
testimony to the national security subcommittee of the House
Oversight and Government Reform committee.
The subcommittee chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz,
said he was unhappy that the Defense Department seemed unable to
account for much of the money spent aiding and rebuilding
The U.S. financial commitment to the region was far from
over, even as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, Chaffetz said in
a statement, adding: "We can't keep gambling away taxpayer
TENS OF BILLIONS STILL IN PIPELINE
Sopko noted a recent scandal at a U.S.-funded Afghan
military hospital where patients were neglected if they could
not pay bribes to staff, and an earlier massive fraud linked to
the Kabul Bank. "Problems like this make the prospect of giving
more direct assistance to the Afghans worrisome," he said.
If President Obama's request for Afghan reconstruction in
2013 is approved by Congress, there will be about $30 billion in
U.S. funds available to Kabul "and much of this money is slated
to be spent on direct assistance programs," Sopko said.
Obama requested $9.66 billion in assistance to Afghanistan
this year, and an aide to Sopko said that at least $20 billion
from previous allocations of U.S. assistance was unspent.
Sopko noted his ability to conduct on-site inspections may
be hindered by security restrictions as the United States and
other countries pull forces out of Afghanistan.
"U.S. and coalition forces have already pulled out of a
number of locations in Afghanistan, leaving some of those places
too dangerous for SIGAR or other agencies to visit," he said.
President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month
agreed to speed up the handover of combat operations in
Afghanistan to Afghan forces. There are currently about 66,000
U.S. troops in Afghanistan; on Tuesday night Obama was expected
to announce the pullout of about half of them by early 2014.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Brunnstrom)