- Staff Sgt. Daniel Luksan/US Army
- The US has spent billions trying to rebuild Afghanistan, more than the US has spent in any other country, The Washington Post reports.
- One US official, in documents obtained by The Post, characterized plans to build a strong central government in Afghanistan as “idiotic” while another said the only part of the market economy that was flourishing was the drug trade.
- Another US official revealed that the biggest achievement of pouring $133 billion into Afghanistan since 2001 was likely “mass corruption.”
The US has spent billions of dollars trying to turn Afghanistan into a functional state, one with a strong central government and a thriving economy, but the plan has largely failed, in part because the US flooded a weak state with more money than it could reasonably be expected to handle responsibly.
The war in Afghanistan has raged for 18 years, and it continues with no immediate end in sight. Thousands of documents obtained by the Washington Post reveal that top US officials knew the situation, despite America’s best efforts, was a mess but tried to mislead the public on how bad the situation actually is.
Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all promised to halt the nation-building process in Afghanistan, but they have not done as promised.
The US has spent more than $133 billion trying to build a modern, stable Afghanistan. That figure is more than the US spent, accounting for inflation, to rebuild all of Western Europe after the end of World War II, the Post reports.
Unlike Europe, the US has been unsuccessful in its efforts to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan.
The Afghan government remains deeply dependent on the US, and US officials, The Post reports, say it will continue to need billions of dollars in assistance every year for decades to come.
“Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government,” a former State Department official told government interviewers four years ago.
“The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”
In 2015, Douglas Lute, a retired three-star Army general who previously oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that things in Afghanistan, with respect to the local economy, were so much worse than people thought.
“We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy,'” Lute explained to government interviewers, according to the documents obtained by The Post. “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade. This is the only part of the market that is working.”
Commenting on US spending on nation-building projects, Lute characterized what the US has been doing in Afghanistan as pouring money down a hole, as the funds were often horribly mismanaged.
The spending, the flooding of the country with cash, bred bribery, corruption and fraud, undermining the legitimacy of the government the US was trying to build.
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who served as an advisor to three generals, said that the government under former Afghan President Hamid Karzai evolved into a kleptocracy within just a few years of US involvement.
“I like to use a cancer analogy,” he said in a government interview, according to The Post.
“Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine,” Kolenda explained to the interviewers. “Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”
A former US diplomat told interviewers, The Post reports, that “our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently” was probably “mass corruption.”