Top U.S. official slams Afghan reconstruction efforts that now exceed costs of WWII Marshall Plan

The top U.S. watchdog in Afghanistan says the 17-year reconstruction effort in that war-torn country has wasted billions because Americans have failed to root out corruption and built infrastructure without consulting local leaders about whether they needed or could afford to operate it.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told The Hill’s new morning show "Rising" this week that the cost of the U.S.-funded reconstruction effort now far exceeds the costs of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.

The effort has suffered from a misguided belief that Afghans have the same needs as Americans, he argued.

“We can't rebuild it into a little America. I think that was one of the problems. We wanted to turn this into Kansas," he told co-hosts Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton in a segment that aired Friday.

“We designed and funded a lot of programs that the Afghans did event know about it until we turned it over to them," he continued.

Those failures in communication and understanding resulted in U.S. taxpayers wasting billions building power plants, gas stations and even a hotel that the Afghans have never used and can’t afford to operate on their own.

Sopko said the U.S. government also poured way too much money into the country without dealing with the "inherent problem of corruption" in Afghan government and society.

"It is one of the most corrupt countries in the world… We probably contributed to it by pouring too much in, too fast with too little oversight," he said. "Basically dollar bills were falling from the sky."

"You can't just throw the money at them, you have to put conditions on them," he added.

The U.S. has now appropriated $117.2 billion on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan since the war began in 2002. That's more than the $103 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars that the U.S. collectively distributed to 16 nations in Western Europe to rebuild after World War II, Sopko's office said.

"We have spent more money on this than we did to the entire Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. This is a large expenditure of U.S. life and blood in Afghanistan, so we’ve got to learn lessons,” he said.

The inspector general routinely documents vast amounts of taxpayer dollars spent on underutilized projects, such as the $335 million spent on the Tarakhil Power Plant outside of Kabul that operates at less than 1 percent of its production capacity. The plant was built to provide more a more sustainable source of energy for Afghanistan.

Officials have also witnessed Afghanistan’s opium production continuing to rise, despite the U.S. spending $8.7 billion on counternarcotics efforts in the country.

Sopko said what is needed is better coordination with the Afghan government as well as the “whole of government strategy” in which U.S. agencies better communicate with each other. 

The key going forward is "how do we get the Afghan government to pay for an infrastructure we have given them,” he said.