Billions Wasted on Unsustainable Projects in Iraq and Afghanistan

Monday, June 06, 2011
America’s efforts to carry out nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan could end up wasting billions of taxpayer dollars once the U.S. military pulls out of both countries.
An examination of projects by the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) has found that in many instances the U.S. has embarked on infrastructure development which neither the Iraqis nor Afghans will be able to operate, for varying reasons, once the withdrawal is complete.
In Afghanistan, the potential waste from unsustainable projects could exceed $11 billion for just the construction of facilities for the national security forces. This year’s proposed U.S. budget to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is $13 billion, including $5 billion just for clothing, equipment and salaries. Can the Afghan government take over these expenses? Not likely, considering that Afghanistan’s entire gross domestic product for FY 2011 is about $16 billion. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the Afghan government will not be able pay the annual costs of the ANSF for at least another 12 years.
In another example, the U.S. spent $300 million on a power plant in Kabul that the Afghan government can’t afford to operate. In fact, the Afghanis found that it is less expensive to buy electricity from neighboring Uzbekistan. The CWC refers to the project as “The white elephant disguised as a power plant.”
In Iraq, a U.S.-funded water-treatment plant is often shut down, and when it is operational, produces “murky water.”
The commission’s report blames the waste on “overly ambitious proposals, incomplete analysis, poor planning, weak coordination, and inadequate follow-through by federal officials.”
It also makes several recommendations to the Departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development which include cancelling or redesigning projects that have little or no realistic prospect for achieving sustainability.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Sustainability: Hidden Costs Risk New Waste (Commission on Wartime Contracting) (pdf)


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