A U.S. government inspector, accompanied by a U.S. Army security detail, inspects work done on an American-funded culvert project in Afghanistan. (SIGAR)
Worsening security in Afghanistan is interfering with efforts to oversee millions of dollars in U.S.-financed rebuilding work, a top watchdog official warned in a newly released letter, adding that his office plans to examine the impact.
“It is clear that everyone working in Afghanistan, including SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction], will struggle to continue providing the direct U.S. civilian oversight that is needed,” the IG, John Sopko, said in the letter to leaders at the State and Defense Departments, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Earlier this year, Sopko said, his employees couldn’t visit infrastructure projects worth $72 million in northern Afghanistan because the projects were in areas not considered reachable by federal civilian employees. The U.S. military has told the IG it will furnish access only to areas “within a one-hour round-trip of an advanced medical facility,” while State Department officials have warned of the difficulty of protecting civilians traveling in insecure areas, he said.
Those challenges are sure to grow as the military continues its pullout over the next year. By the end of the transition, Sopko said, barely one-fifth of the country will be accessible to federal watchdog organizations. To help the U.S. prepare, Sopko said that his office plans to audit USAID’s efforts to use contractors and satellite photographs to keep tabs on the course of aid projects.
Sopko also asked Defense, State and USAID to explain how they will monitor work outside of safe zones and to detail any “lessons learned” from their experiences in conducting oversight in Iraq and other “high-risk” security environments.