Cau­tion­ary tales ques­tion wis­dom of adding re­sources.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBERT BURNS

One shirt, one pair of pants. Those are the ba­sics for out­fit­ting an Afghan sol­dier. But in that sim­ple uni­form com­bi­na­tion are the threads of two trou­bling sto­ries — one about the waste of mil­lions in Amer­i­can tax­payer dol­lars, the other about the per­ils of prop­ping up a part­ner army in a seem­ingly end­less war.

To­gether these tales help ex­plain why some in Congress ques­tion the wis­dom of in­vest­ing even more re­sources in Afghanistan, nearly 16 years af­ter the United States in­vaded the Tal­iban-ruled coun­try in re­sponse to the al Qaeda at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Army gen­eral who runs the U.S. war ef­fort in Afghanistan calls it a stale­mate. De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis says the U.S. is “not win­ning,” and he vows to “cor­rect this as soon as pos­si­ble.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is search­ing for an im­proved ap­proach to achiev­ing the goal it in­her­ited from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion: to get the Afghan gov­ern­ment to a point where it can de­fend it­self and pre­vent its ter­ri­tory from be­ing a haven for ex­trem­ists.

Mr. Mat­tis has said he ex­pects to have that re­vised strat­egy ready for Congress by next month. This com­ing week he will con­sult with NATO al­lies in Brus­sels on troop con­tri­bu­tions and other Afghan is­sues.

The long war has gen­er­ated re­peated ex­am­ples of wasted funds, which may be in­evitable in a coun­try such as Afghanistan, where the mil­i­tary has been built from scratch, is plagued with cor­rup­tion and re­lies al­most com­pletely on U.S. money for even the most ba­sic things, in­clud­ing salaries and uni­forms.

Among the costs rarely noted pub­licly: The Pen­tagon has spent $1 bil­lion over the past three years to help re­cruit and re­tain Afghan sol­diers.

The money wasted on uni­forms is small pota­toes by com­par­i­son with other U.S. mis­steps in Afghanistan, but it is em­blem­atic of broader prob­lems.

The Pen­tagon has not dis­puted the gist of find­ings by its spe­cial in­spec­tor gen­eral for Afghanistan, John Sopko, that the U.S. spent as much as $28 mil­lion more than nec­es­sary over 10 years on uni­forms for Afghan sol­diers with a cam­ou­flage “for­est” pat­tern that may be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the largely desert bat­tle­field.

In a re­port re­leased this past week, Mr. Sopko’s of­fice said the Pen­tagon paid to li­cense a pro­pri­ety cam­ou­flage pat­tern even though it owns pat­terns it could have used for free. The choice, it said, was based on the seem­ingly off­hand fash­ion pref­er­ence of a sin­gle Afghan of­fi­cial.

“This is not an iso­lated event,” Mr. Sopko said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. The U.S., he said, has been “in a mad rush to spend money like a drunken sailor on a week­end fur­lough.” It re­flects a pat­tern, he said, of spend­ing too much money, too quickly, with too lit­tle over­sight and too lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity.

Mr. Sopko’s of­fice is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cam­ou­flage uni­form con­tract process, which it found “ques­tion­able.”

“This was more than just a bad fash­ion move,” he said. “It cost the tax­payer mil­lions of dol­lars” more than might have been nec­es­sary.

Money is rarely part of the de­bate over what the United States should do dif­fer­ently or bet­ter in Afghanistan, and thus the ac­cu­mu­lat­ing costs are of­ten over­looked.

Since 2002, the U.S. has spent $66 bil­lion on Afghan se­cu­rity forces alone. In re­cent years this spend­ing has grown, even though Pres­i­dent Obama’s stated goal was to wean the Afghans from U.S. mil­i­tary help af­ter he for­mally ended the Amer­i­can com­bat role there three years ago. U.S. spend­ing on Afghan forces rose from $3.6 bil­lion last year to $4.2 bil­lion this year, and Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posed 2018 bud­get asks for $4.9 bil­lion.


Afghan army sol­diers, like this one on the out­skirts of Kabul, are de­pen­dent on the U.S. for ba­sic ma­te­ri­als, such as bul­lets. Af­ter 16 years and with­out an end in sight, some are ques­tion­ing the wis­dom of in­vest­ing more re­sources in the con­flict.

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