Despite $900 Billion Spent and 2,400 U.S. Lives Lost, Afghanistan Continues to Deteriorate

The government's Afghanistan watchdog releases sobering report on the progress of the war.



A new report is out from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR)—the government's watchdog for the war—and its findings paint an ugly picture: despite billions spent and thousands of U.S. lives lost, Afghanistan is facing worsening violence and instability.

SIGAR's quarterly report to Congress—its 40st since the conflict began—found that the U.S.-backed Afghan government controls or influences just 56 percent of the administrative districts in the country, down from 72 percent in 2015. By comparison, some 14 percent of districts are now controlled or influenced by insurgent forces, and another 30 percent are rated "contested."

The loss of territory has coincided with a slight drop in violent incidents. There were a reported 63 violent incidences per day in Afghanistan from February to May of this year (the period covered by the SIGAR report), a 7 percent decrease from the same period last year. However, both targeted assassinations and suicide bombings were up in the same period, rising 35 percent and 78 percent respectively, from last year.

Civilian deaths are also up. A record 1,692 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018, according to the SIGAR report, slightly more than the 1,672 civilians killed last year, and a massive increase from the 1,052 civilians killed in 2009. When factoring in injuries, total casualties had declined slightly in the first six months of this year to 5,122, down from 5,272 last year.

Of these casualties, the SIGAR report—relying on United Nations data—found that 67 percent were the result of anti-government forces, while 20 percent were attributed to pro-government forces, which would include the U.S.

Some 353 casualties (149 dead and 204 injured) were the result of airstrikes, up from 232 last year and coinciding with a sharp increase in the number of U.S. airstrikes this year.

In addition to the ongoing violence in the country, SIGAR has found that U.S. efforts to stabilize the country have "mostly failed," despite our spending some $4.7 billion on such efforts since 2002. In a bulleted list of "lessons learned," the SIGAR report notes that "the U.S. government greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan" and U.S. aid—far from reducing violence or strengthening Afghan governance—often "exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption, and bolstered support for insurgents."

The SIGAR report also had harsh words for the U.S. government's attempts to crackdown on opium production, with Special Inspector General John F. Sopko saying that despite $8 billion spent on counternarcotics efforts since 2002, "Afghanistan's opium crisis is worse than ever."

None of this should come as much of a surprise, given the mind-boggling waste SIGAR has previously reported in Afghanistan, including spending $43 million on a compressed natural gas station and another $60 million on a Marriot hotel in downtown Kabul that, despite being totally unoccupied, still requires heavy security to prevent insurgents using the ghost building as a base from which to fire rockets down into the nearby U.S. embassy.

This newest report is a depressing reminder that after losing 2,400 U.S. military personnel and spending some $900 billion total on the war, the U.S. has failed to build a stable, democratic Afghan government that can provide for its own security.