As part of its attempt to boost Afghanistan's economic and political development, the United States is paying thousands of Afghan contractors and subcontractors to perform much of the work that supports U.S. efforts there. But the "Afghan First" program could be achieving just the opposite of its intended effect, according to officials trying to figure out where the money is going.
Initial assessments by newly organized military task forces and government investigators indicate that instead of promoting new small and medium-size businesses, building trust and spreading the wealth, many of the contracts appear to have enriched Afghanistan's traditional power brokers and created new ones.
"We have the best of intentions," said Rear Adm. Kathleen Dussault, head of a new team of forensic auditors sent to examine military contracts in Afghanistan. But "we need to look at how we're doing business."
Dussault's Joint Task Force 2010 is one of several new initiatives after widespread reports that U.S. spending in Afghanistan, in amounts far exceeding the country's own income, may have exacerbated some of the problems it set out to solve and is a major contributor to the corruption that has hobbled U.S. efforts. The reports have led House appropriators to hold up approval of some of the administration's new spending requests for Afghan reconstruction.
After eight years in Afghanistan and more than $50 billion spent, the United States still has "no comprehensive database on reconstruction contracts" and no integrated system to track projects that are "completed, ongoing and planned," Special Inspector General Arnold Field told Congress in mid July. President Barack Obama has asked for an additional $20 billion in fiscal 2011.
"It is not enough to simply conduct audits of contracts and program management after money has been spent," Field said.
Second sailor's body found: Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, 25, the second U.S. sailor who went missing from Camp Julien on the outskirts of Kabul last week, was found dead Wednesday and his body has been recovered, the U.S. military said Thursday. The body of Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, 30, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., was recovered Sunday. Newlove was from the Seattle area.