Up in Arms

Published — April 30, 2018 Updated — May 2, 2018 at 8:25 am ET

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn’t bringing peace or prosperity there

A coordinated double suicide bombing hit central Kabul on Monday morning. AP/Rahmat Gul

A new summary of the country’s troubles by a special auditor of the U.S. intervention doesn’t paint an optimistic picture of its future


A double suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan on the last day of April that killed at least 31 people and wounded at least 49 highlighted — once again — how far that country remains from the stable future that three successive U.S. presidents and their top military advisers have said was within reach.

“We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said shortly before visiting the country in March, echoing the phraseology of his predecessors. He said this meant a political reconciliation between its insurgents and leaders, and Afghan security forces strong enough to defend the government by themselves.

But his optimism, and that of his Defense Department colleagues, isn’t supported by the facts in the latest quarterly report published by John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Here are a few uncomfortable but telling statistics buried in the 262-page report, released on May 1:

  • The Afghan economy – measured in GDP – stopped growing in 2012 and has since retrenched.
  • After a $126 billion US relief and reconstruction investment lasting nearly two decades, Afghanistan is the 183rd worst country in the world to “do business.” Less than a third of Afghans are connected to the power grid.
  • The few economic gains that America brought to Afghanistan came from direct spending and are generally considered unsustainable without persistent foreign aid.
  • The number of bombs dropped by the Western coalition in Afghanistan in early 2018 was the highest it’s been since 2013. And the number of direct Taliban attacks declined over the winter. But the country remains hugely unstable, with more security incidents last year than ever recorded. Casualties from unexploded ordnance and mines average 170 a month.
  • Suicide attacks in Afghanistan, like those on Monday, went up 50 percent in 2017. Casualties from complex attacks and suicide bombings are steadily rising. Sectarian attacks tripled in 2017.
  • America has spent $8.78 billion since 2001 to reduce narcotics production in Afghanistan. But opium growing has steadily increased, with a 63 percent jump in 2017 alone.
  • Only 65 percent of the population presently lives under Afghan government control, after direct US expendiitures to Afghan security forces of $78 billion. “The overall trend for the insurgency is rising control over the population,” the report states,
  • So far, 20,318 DOD personnel have been wounded in Afghanistan. The number in 2017 was higher than in 2016 and 2015. At present, there are roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, a number slated to increase.
  • The number of serving Afghan military and police, meanwhile, experienced “a sharp decline” last year. Insider attacks by Afghan soldiers are rising. The number of women in uniform is falling.
  • Widespread corruption remains a dragging anchor on progress throughout the country. The U.S. Department of Justice reported in early 2018 that “there has been no follow-up on old [Afghanistan] corruption cases from 2013 and no effort to extradite and prosecute convicted criminals living abroad through international agreements. DOJ attributed these failures to a lack of Afghan government political will.”


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