Billions of dollars worth of U.S. taxpayer-funded construction projects intended to rebuild the infrastructure of Afghanistan and win the support of the Afghan people, are now so far behind schedule they may not have any effect "for several years," and could actually benefit the Taliban insurgency, according to a new inspector general's report.
In his report, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John F. Sopko, concludes that due to the complex nature of many of the projects, the Afghan government will lack both the money and the expertise needed to maintain them. The deterioration and eventual failure of the projects will result in what Sopko calls an "expectations gap" among the Afghan people which could be exploited by the Taliban in their attempt to destabilize the country.
"Implementing projects that the Afghan government is unable to sustain may be counterproductive" to the U.S. counterinsurgency mission, Sopko wrote. "If goals are set and not achieved, both the U.S. and Afghan governments can lose the populace's support."
Since 2003, the U.S. has spent nearly $90 billion on construction of electrical power, transportation, waste disposal and water supply projects throughout Afghanistan. These projects, many of which Sopko says are now from 6 to 15 months behind schedule, include: repairing, restoring, or improving electrical production, transmission, and distribution infrastructure; repairing transportation networks such as roads and railways; and water projects including major dams, irrigation, wells, sewage treatment and waste disposal facilities.
Singled out as an example in Sopko's report is a project to supply adequate and dependable electricity to residents of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city.
The plan calls for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a new hydroelectric power-generating turbine at a dam in the nearby Helmand province, where work on the project is being slowed by continued Taliban attacks. Until the turbine can be installed, power to Kandahar will be supplemented by a collection of 25 megawatt diesel-powered generators - at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of about $220 million through 2013.
But with all U.S. combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the completion date of the turbine remains in question. In addition, notes Sopko, the Afghan government will be financially unable to continue buying diesel for the generators once U.S. assistance ends. As a result, the lights - and the trust of the Afghan people -- will slowly go out in Kandahar.
"While the Kandahar Bridging Solution [the hydropower turbine] may achieve some immediate benefits because -- as stated by USAID officials -- 'people like having their lights on,' the U.S. government may be building an expectations gap that cannot be met in a timely manner," states Sopko's report.