U.S. Has No Idea How Much Aid To The Afghan Government Is Being Stolen

An IG report on Afghan aid and an interview with a terrorist suspect show why the U.S. is a long way from ending the war on terror

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Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014.

None of the Afghan ministries that have been receiving $1.6 billion in foreign aid from U.S. taxpayers are currently able “to manage and account for funds,” a report [pdf] from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) concluded on Thursday.

The condemnation of American aid safeguards points to yet another challenge the U.S. will face as it tries to pivot away from the war on terror. Obama reined in drone strikes in 2013 and is negotiating with Congress a draft replacement of its 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and its allies. He is also overseeing the wind down of the military detention of terrorist suspects, taking steps towards closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and negotiating the final handover of prisoners held by the U.S. at a military facility outside Kabul.

In Afghanistan, he plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of the year, while continuing foreign aid. But the SIGAR report found that USAID hadn’t required the Afghan government to implement the vast majority of the safeguards the aid agency and others had come up with after previous reviews. Says John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “Our military presence may be getting smaller but there are billions of dollars in the pipeline for reconstruction. Now more than ever we need greater vigilance to ensure that American taxpayers aren’t fleeced.”

Last May, President Obama declared that the war on terrorism, “like all wars, must end” and he echoed that sentiment in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, declaring that, “America must move off a permanent war footing.” A key element to that effort, he said Tuesday, is “building the capacity of our foreign partners.”

I take a closer look at the challenges of ending the war on terror in a story in this week’s magazine. In it, I interview a terrorism suspect named Sabir Ali Khan who is resisting extradition to the U.S. from the Netherlands, and I assess how America’s wind down of military detention means an increased reliance on other countries.

Khan was arrested by the Pakistanis in Sept. 2010 and held for eight months in two secret prisons and he alleges he was tortured during his detention. A Dutch citizen, he was flown to the Netherlands where he is free while the Dutch courts decide if the U.S. had anything to do with his detention. The story is available to subscribers here.