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How Afghan Reconstruction Money Is Being Spent


The U.S. has appropriated about $40 billion so far to reconstruct Afghanistan. That money has been spent on everything from building power plants, roads and schools to paying contractors who train Afghan security forces. So, how much of that money is getting where it's intended? Last year Congress created an oversight office headed by the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. He is retired Marine Corps Major General Arnold Fields. And he joins us from his office in Arlington, Virginia. Welcome to the program.

Major General ARNOLD FIELDS (U.S. Marine Corps, Retired): It is great to be online with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Can you give us an example, please, of a project in Afghanistan that you think is considered a great success, money well spent?

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: Very good question. During the course of my almost a year and a half in this position, I've been privileged to visit a number of provinces and quite a few of the reconstruction initiatives that are underway. Specifically, one that does come to mind relates to the Afghanistan National Army. And I've been to one of the bases in the province of Herat. And to walk on that facility is not unlike walking on a facility here in the United States. It's a military base. One would see buildings, roads going through this particular compound, billeting spaces for the troops and so forth. I actually was rather impressed by it.

BLOCK: Of course, you can look at the project like that. It looks good when you look at it and what you're not seeing, perhaps, is the level of graft and corruption that underlaid the construction.

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: That is correct. And so, that is the principle reason for which my office, as the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction exists.

BLOCK: You're well aware of the fact that the government in Afghanistan is widely seen as rampantly corrupt. Can you quantify in any sense what percentage of U.S. dollars spent on reconstruction end up not going where they're intended, end up being lost to waste or corruption?

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: Yes. Indications are - certainly there is some waste, fraud and abuse. As an inspector general, we avoid being conclusive on matters on which we have really not done all of the empirical work. And this happens to be one of them. But I have been told, I will tell you this, by members of the government of Afghanistan that from their vantage point, they see only about 25 percent to 30 percent of a dollar actually getting to the initiative or project towards which it was originally intended.

BLOCK: Twenty-five to 30 percent of a dollar going where it was intended is a shockingly low number. Where would the other 70 to 75 percent of that money be going?

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: Well, a big part of that money, according to various sources and one of which will - that I will not exactly quote, they suggest that about 10 to 20 percent of funding for a given reconstruction initiative could be going to private security. And this, of course, given the imminent danger in Afghanistan is a particular problem.

BLOCK: But if you're talking about 10 to 20 percent funding security, you're still taking about maybe 50 to 60 percent that is, as far as I can tell, gone, disappeared. Where'd it go?

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: Well, we haven't determined conclusively where all of this money has gone. But I will tell you that we have a number of contract audits, as we refer to them, that are on the way. And this takes, essentially, a contract from the original intent of the contract, the execution of the contract. In other words, we will take a contract from A to Z.

BLOCK: You know, General Fields, a lot - I think a lot of people listening to this would say, if we've been funding projects in Afghanistan for about eight years, $40 billion, we should know that answer by now.

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: I would say, yes. But we are a relatively new organization put in place just last year. And I might parenthetically say that we probably should've been in place long before then. But I trust, though, that the work that we are doing from the standpoint of our oversight of that money helps to build the confidence that I feel the American people and the American taxpayer need to hear, regarding whether or not this tremendous investment is measuring up to everyone's expectations.

BLOCK: General Fields, thanks for talking with us.

Maj. Gen. FIELDS: Thank you so much, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's retired Major General Arnold Fields. He is the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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