The following is a news analysis.
The Afghan War is the longest war in U.S. history. It has claimed the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and wasted billions of our tax dollars.
Out of all that money being spent, there is pretty much only one independent force uncovering fraud, waste and abuse: the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction or SIGAR. The office is headed by Inspector General John Sopko, an Obama appointee who has stayed on the job under President Trump.
So it was pretty surprising to recently read someone seriously advocating to abolish the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). From a taxpayer perspective, the office is arguably one of the things the U.S. has done responsibly regarding our involvement in Afghanistan.
Only because of SIGAR do we have even a vague sense of how much of our money has been wasted or abused.
And maybe that's exactly why SIGAR and Inspector General Sopko are taking arrows.
It's not the first time.
U.S. military interests, defense contractors and politicians are among those who have attempted to smear Sopko and disparage his work on behalf of taxpayers.
Without Sopko's investigations, I do not think we would know about all the U.S. tax money spent on non-existent Afghan "ghost soldiers." Out of more than 300,000 collecting salaries, only about half actually existed. This implies rampant fraud. New systems to count actual soldiers were put in place as a result of Sopko's findings.
Sopko flagged a 64,000 square foot U.S. military headquarters built in Afghanistan for about $36 million U.S. tax dollars-- that was never occupied. The military was none too happy that Sopko demanded accountability and named names.
Sopko and his investigators also uncovered a fleet of airplanes bought for the Afghan Air Force, at U.S. taxpayer expense, that were scrapped for pennies on the pound.
The list goes on and on. (See additional story links below.)
More recently, Sopko raised hackles among military interests by objecting to the military's classification of certain statistics regarding our performance in Afghanistan. These statistics had previously been regularly reported in the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports, and the stats may not reflect well on how things are going in Afghanistan.
The classifiers who now moved to keep the information secret, and some in the Trump administration, argued that they didn't want our enemies could get their hands on it and somehow use it against us. However, Sopko countered that our enemies already know the stats, and so does the Afghan government-- so the only ones being kept in the dark by the classification are the American people. Perhaps, one might argue, the classification was nothing more than the Pentagon's attempt to tamp down public criticism of our efforts in Afghanistan.
And now, there is a public case being made to "wind down" the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and fold its duties into other office. The argument says that the SIGAR budget, upwards of $54 million a year, is itself a waste of taxpayer money.
From a taxpayer perspective, the better time to wind down the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is when we are no longer spending taxpayer money to rebuild in Afghanistan.
But as long as our tax money is going out the door as part of the longest war in U.S. history, we need an independent advocate watching out for waste, fraud and abuse. Whether U.S. defense contractors and other military interests like it or not.
Particularly, in fact, if they don't.
You can review some of the stories and investigations I've done on the topic by clicking the links below.
Read the argument for abolishing SIGAR at The Hill, written by Daniel F. Runde is a senior vice president and William A. Schreyer chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, by clicking the link below: