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Hearing of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - Examining U.S. Reconstruction Efforts in Afghanistan

Hearing

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Location: Washington, DC

If we are still running into the same problems in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq, now that we are transitioning, is it time for Congress to reexamine how we conduct these operations and consider implementing some much needed reform? The obvious answer is yes."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement at today's subcommittee hearing entitled: "Examining U.S. Reconstruction Efforts in Afghanistan." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"Before we begin, I would like to express my most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the five American troops that were killed in Afghanistan just yesterday. No words can adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe those brave troops, and our thoughts and prayers are certainly with them and their families at this troubling time.

Last year, this Subcommittee convened a hearing with Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Stuart Bowen, on the lessons learned from the United States' stabilization, relief and reconstruction operation in Iraq. The purpose of that hearing was to examine SIGIR's final report to get a better understanding of how the U.S. approaches reconstruction efforts, and where we can improve so that we won't be confronted with the same problems and repeat the same mistakes.

The major take away from that hearing, in addition to the billions of dollars in wasted taxpayer dollars, was that the United States government was unable to adequately plan, execute and oversee such large scale operations. So have we learned any lessons from Iraq? Have we learned to use our assistance more effectively and more efficiently?

While we may have implemented a few reforms as a result of the recommendations from these oversight entities in front of us, sadly, it seems that we still have a long way to go to be good shepherds of taxpayer dollars. Having seen previous GAO and SIGAR reports related to oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance in Afghanistan, several things are strikingly obvious:

One is that GAO and SIGAR have undertaken an important task keeping Congress informed on that status of our operations there, but now with the troop presence winding down, their abilities will be severely restricted due to the security situation and lack of access; this will make it difficult for them, and subsequently for us in Congress, to keep proper tabs on all of the U.S. funded projects in Afghanistan. Another is that for all of our effort and desire to do good in Afghanistan, we have some very glaring deficiencies that must be addressed.

The U.S. has allocated over $103 billion to Afghanistan relief and reconstruction. However, the Afghan government is still not capable of handling such a large infusion of money, of goods and of equipment and it is incapable of achieving long term sustainability.

This is particularly telling with many of our infrastructure projects, like in the health sector, where often times USAID would fund projects that are way too large and way too ambitious, and it leaves the Afghans with facilities that are larger and more expensive to operate, like the Gardez and Khair Khot hospitals; and then these hospitals go unused and unstaffed because the Afghans can't find the funds nor the staff to operate them.

These efforts are not economical and not practical; as a result, it is a waste of taxpayer dollars. The result of this large infusion of money to an incapable Afghan system is twofold: A report released this year, commissioned by General Dunford and conducted by the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA), determined that the vast influx of money overwhelmed the Afghan government's capacity. This helped foster an environment of corruption that has worked against our interests from the start, and as General Allen once said: corruption is the existential, strategic threat to Afghanistan.

The other result is that it created an environment in which we are not tackling the root cause of the issue. The only way for Afghanistan to maintain and sustain the progress it has made under these relief and reconstruction efforts is to continue to rely on donor contributions to fill the revenue gaps -- and that is not sustainable for Afghanistan nor is it sustainable for us in the United States -- or we risk losing all of those gains.

In 2009, the Administration decided it was going to pledge to provide 50% of the developmental aid to Afghanistan in direct assistance. In fact, GAO reports that we went from $470 million in 2009 to over $1.4 billion in 2010. However, that same year several reports -- including one commissioned directly by USAID -- cited how decidedly ill-equipped the Afghan ministries were to receive direct assistance.

Both GAO and SIGAR raised the warning flags, and recommended that USAID identify and assess the risks associated with direct assistance, but SIGAR is now reporting that USAID had ignored these recommendations and may have approved direct assistance without mitigating these risks.

So how are we to conduct proper oversight of State, of USAID, of DoD, to ensure that they are fully complying with the recommendations of SIGAR and GAO and the rules and regulations laid out by Congress to ensure U.S. taxpayer dollars are put to their best use?

SIGIR identified several major lessons that should have been learned in Iraq that should be applied in Afghanistan, and these included the need to: Implement better interagency coordination and use our funds wiser, more efficiently and more effectively.

If we are still running into the same problems in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq, now that we are transitioning, is it time for Congress to reexamine how we conduct these operations and consider implementing some much needed reform? The obvious answer is yes."


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