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“Holy cow, I was living like Scarface…I was paying out anywhere between $300-400,000 per week to $5 million per week at times. All in cash.” Matthew Hoh, U.S. Marine Corps Captain and former State Department official
The conflict in Afghanistan — for the U.S. at least — appears to be over. Essentially admitting defeat, American planes are beating a hasty and ignominious retreat from Kabul, with images of the withdrawal bearing a striking resemblance to those from the fall of Saigon 46 years previously.
As the Taliban complete their takeover, many Americans are wondering what it was all about. For what, and on what, did the United States spend more than $2 trillion? A newly published study from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — a U.S. government body — lays bare the waste and corruption of the whole affair, drawing parallels with famous satires such as “Catch 22” and “M*A*S*H*.” Uncompromising in its frankness, the 124-page report outlines the incompetence, venality and dark absurdity of the whole endeavor.
“When you look at how much we spent and what we got for it, it’s mind boggling,” one senior Department of Defense administrator admitted to SIGAR in 2015.
Congress founded SIGAR in 2008 to provide neutral and objective oversight into the U.S.’ handling of Afghan reconstruction programs. The new report is the latest — and perhaps most critical — of 13 yearly offerings analyzing U.S. efforts in the country.
At no point did the U.S. truly control all of Afghanistan. But officials in Washington wanted to see quantifiable results. In a region where American troops were barely able to leave their bases without being attacked, “cash spent” became one of the few concrete metrics commanders could report back with any accuracy. As the report concluded:
Perversely, because it was the easiest thing to monitor, the amount of money spent by a program often became the most important measure of success. A USAID official told SIGAR, ‘The Hill was always asking, ‘Did you spend the money?’…I didn’t hear many questions about what the effects were.
Program budgets were massively expanded, often over the objections of USAID and others on the ground, who argued that inundating the country with dollars was not truly winning hearts and minds, and was a wasteful and ineffective strategy.
There was no incentive to report on financial excesses, fraud or abuse, and barely any oversight over where the money was actually going. Contractors, NGOs and others who were aboard the seemingly endless gravy train also kept quiet as they stuffed their pockets with billions of dollars of public money.
MintPress spoke to a person who had been a central part of this bizarre story. Matthew Hoh was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and an official with both the Department of Defense and the State Department, spending almost 12 years in the U.S. military and government focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, he resigned from his position in the State Department in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, over U.S. policy in the country.