In Afghanistan, things aren't getting better
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The number of properly trained Afghan troops has been grossly overestimated. Afghan military and police leaders are collecting salaries for troops and police that don't exist. The government is doing the same for schools, teachers, clinics and doctors. Fraud and corruption are rampant. Contractors are being paid exorbitant amounts of money, but doing little. Intelligence is faulty. Oversight is being done from a distance and without effect. Afghanistan will not survive without help.

But don't worry; things will be better next year.

The problem is that I heard these statements repeatedly in 2004 and 2005, when I was program officer for the Office for Counternarcotics under the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of South Asia, and then heard them again last week.


C-SPAN carried a House Armed Services Oversight Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on Feb. 12 with the purpose of reviewing the situation in Afghanistan. Officials with responsibility for running U.S. programs in Afghanistan testified, including the the deputy assistant Defense secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

There was, however, one big difference from the reporting I used to hear 11 years ago. The impeccably honest and thorough special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, testified before the committee and repeatedly contrasted witnesses' rosy reports with reality checks stemming from his frequent visits to Afghanistan. Sopko pointed out program failures, unrealistic claims of optimism and colossal examples of corruption.

Examples were numerous. He revealed that the United States recently completed new headquarters for the Afghan Ministry of Defense. The building was completed five years late and ran $100 million over the original budget.

Sopko flatly stated that the $8 billion spent on counternarcotics has gone completely down the drain, and that Afghanistan was in danger of becoming "narco-terrorist state." In fact, he pointed out that security was so poor in Kabul, the capital, that Department of State officials from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement had never visited their counterparts in the Ministry of [Counter] Narcotics.

Sopko mentioned other failures, but most telling was his answer that he believes conditions in Afghanistan in 2016 will be no better in 2015.

To echo matters, during the Jan. 28 confirmation hearing of Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson as the new American commander in Afghanistan, Nicholson agreed with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.) that Afghanistan's security situation was deteriorating.

Stunningly, McCain's position at the Jan. 28 hearing was that the answer was obvious: to continue to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan all the while pouring billions more dollars down the Afghan sinkhole.

So now what?

Afghanistan has become emblematic of everything wrong with our Asian and Middle Eastern policies. No one has a clear vision of where anything is leading. No one states an achievable endpoint that makes any sense or has any permanency. Say we crushed the Taliban tomorrow — does anyone in his or her right mind think that that's it? The United States won its independence and achieved stability because, to a great extent, it was protected by two oceans. The countries of South Asia and the Middle East are squashed together in a cauldron, like ingredients of some toxic stew that can never be cooked sufficiently to produce anything palatable.

Afghanistan has a country to its east, Pakistan, which not only harbors its enemies, but is also haunted by the possibility of India gaining an increasing foothold. To the west, Iran supplies its enemies with arms just because those enemies fight U.S. forces. To its north, the Central Asian nations are racked by chaos and corruption, and are conduits for Chinese and Russian interference.

It is not only that the U.S. presence is not making us any safer; we are also depleting our Treasury and wasting valuable lives when we could be doing things like paying down our debt and rebuilding our infrastructure, efforts that would truly make us stronger. Smart guys like Tom Friedman of The New York Times have said it over and over. We need to come home and fix our own problems. Our presence will not heal rifts hundreds of year old in places that know no other way of life. If the locals ever want it bad enough, they'll fix it themselves.

Blady, M.D., is a former program officer for the under secretary of Defense for policy and senior analyst for the under secretary of Defense for intelligence.