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As US heads to war, new details of money wasted in Afghanistan

The watchdog office in charge of Afghanistan's reconstruction is still finding new examples of wasted funds.
A U.S. soldier (R) and Afghan security forces keep watch from a security tower at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul September 16, 2014.
A U.S. soldier (R) and Afghan security forces keep watch from a security tower at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul September 16, 2014.

The House of Representatives has signed off on plans to fight militants in Iraq and Syria, but as President Obama and his top advisers prepare the American public for another long fight, the U.S. is still struggling to account for millions of dollars spent during its 13 years in Afghanistan.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released information Thursday about an inquiry into $6.5 million dollars wasted on communications towers that were never used for their intended purposes. In a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, Special Inspector General John Sopko pointed out that despite numerous warning signs that the project to build six communications towers in Afghanistan were doomed, they were still built and now sit idle.

“Based on the records provided to SIGAR, such red flags included serious concerns expressed by senior State Department personnel, Department of Defense (DOD) flag officers, and Afghan officials regarding the viability of the project,” Sopko wrote. “Specifically, concerns were raised that Afghan telecom providers would not connect to the system, and that DOD did not want the towers because of the high cost of fueling the towers’ generators.”

In March, the Defense Department confirmed that one tower was not being used, despite the State Department’s assurances it would be used to provide cell phone coverage.  

This is only the latest SIGAR inquiry into wasted funds, and 13 years after going to war in Afghanistan, it is a reminder that new military missions will guarantee long term financial commitments far beyond bombs and guns and “advisers” on the ground.

Afghanistan’s reconstruction has received nearly $104 billion dollars, and the U.S. is likely to invest at least $5 billion a year once troops have left the country. And according to the final report for the Special Inspector General for the Iraq Reconstruction, some $60 billion was spent in Iraq over 10 years, and at least $1.5 billion is thought to be lost to waste, corruption and fraud.

The House of Representatives approved President Obama's plan Wednesday to train and arm rebels in Syria, and the U.S. has conducted more than 160 airstrikes in Iraq in recent weeks.