NBC News & AntiWar.com & Roll Call – 2018-07-27 00:38:03
Watchdog Says US Wasted More than
$15 Billion in Past 11 Years in Afghanistan
Laura Strickler and Dan De Luce / NBC News
WASHINGTON (July 25.2018) — The watchdog charged with tracking government spending in Afghanistan has released its first estimate of the total amount of money wasted there — a staggering $15.5 billion over 11 years — but says even that figure is probably “only a portion.”
In response to a request from three congressman in 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tallying the waste and fraud in the US effort to rebuild the country.
After 10 months of research, SIGAR sent a letter back to the congressmen that estimated the waste at $15.5 billion between SIGAR’s inception in 2008 and Dec. 31, 2017, or 29 percent of the spending it audited. In the letter, obtained by NBC News, Special Inspector General John Sopko describes the figure as “likely . . . only a portion of the total waste, fraud, abuse and failed efforts.”
One of the three congressmen who requested the calculation, Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, called Afghanistan a “black hole” for taxpayer money. “The American people deserve a better understanding of where their money is going,” said Jones.
SIGAR noted that more than $4 billion dollars intended for “stabilization programs” in Afghanistan instead led to “exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and bolstered support for insurgents”.
And the $7.3 billion spent to stem the Afghan drug trade has done very little to stop the “production and exportation of illicit drugs,” according to SIGAR, which notes that opium production is now “at the highest levels since 2002.”
The report comes as the Taliban has continued to gain ground on the battlefield against the US-backed Afghan government and as the Trump administration has launched a diplomatic bid to end the war.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has expressed skepticism about continuing the American troop presence in the country. The US has now had troops in Afghanistan for 17 years. Trump considered pulling out US forces in his first year in office before reluctantly agreeing to extending and expanding the mission after a protracted internal debate.
Aware of Trump’s impatience with the war, US commanders and diplomats are now eager to make progress with peace talks. Officials told NBC News that the president could pull the plug on the American commitment with little notice.
During administration deliberations on the issue last year, Trump’s then-chief strategist Steve Bannon favored withdrawing US troops and replacing them with private contractors. The unorthodox idea — strongly opposed by the Pentagon — was floated by Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm once known as Blackwater that had US government security contracts in Iraq. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary.
Congress Aims to Stop Arming Terrorists,
Limit Yemen War Involvement in Funding Bill
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 25, 2018) — A conference of House and Senate Armed Service Committee members have offered their joint version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual military funding bill often includes a lot of policy-related amendments, and this year’s is no different.
Among these are efforts to substantially limit US military operations in Yemen. The language calls for a review of US military operations in Yemen, with focus on reports of Emirati war crimes. The bill also demands the Pentagon tell Congress of any violations of federal law.
Perhaps most impactful, at least in the near term, the bill also limits US military involvement in Yemen in the immediate future, until both the UAE and Saudi Arabia “demonstrate” support for the UN peace efforts, resolve the humanitarian crisis, and cut down on civilian deaths.
Another amendment that managed to survive the joint conference effort was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-HI) “Stop Arming Terrorists Act,” which blocks all funding for arming Syrian rebels until the administration provides a report detailing how they plan to ensure that they aren’t arming terrorist groups. Such a report was already supposed to have been offered in February, but never was.
Congress to Terror Groups:
Hands Off Our Weapons
Defense policy bill provision aims to
prohibit Pentagon from arming terror groups
Patrick Kelley / Roll Call
(July 25, 2018) — If terror groups in the Middle East want more weapons to aid their fight against the US military and its allies in the region, they won’t get them from the Pentagon.
It may seem obvious that the Defense Department wouldn’t arm its enemies, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from including a provision in the final fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill that forbids the US military from assisting three terror organizations with a presence in Syria.
“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2019 may be used to knowingly provide weapons or any other form of support to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or any individual or group affiliated with any such organization,” the conference report on the bill says.
The measure stems from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard‘s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act,” which the Hawaii Democrat introduced last year with bipartisan support. Gabbard, a skeptic of previous efforts by the US government to train and equip so-called moderate rebels in Syria, believes the measure will ensure that American weapons won’t end up in the wrong hands.
“The United States has both directly and indirectly provided support to armed militants who are either allied with or fighting under the command of terrorist groups like ISIS or al Qaida, particularly in Syria,” Gabbard said. “My introduction of that provision within the defense bill was another effort to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are not being used in that way.”
Kentucky Republican Rand Paul has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Gabbard’s call to block US weapons from ending up in terrorists’ hands comes around nine months after US-backed forces ousted the Islamic State from Raqqa, Syria, which the group claimed as its capital city.
Recent reports, though, indicate that Islamic State fighters have likely remained in Syria. These Islamic State holdouts have reportedly blended into the local population with the goal of fighting to regain their lost territory, an event that would only intensify the already bloody Syrian civil war.
The Pentagon may still rely on local forces to push back against a potentially resurgent Islamic State, but will need to first show Congress how they plan to do so.
The defense bill, commonly referred to as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, requires the Pentagon to describe in a report how it plans to train and equip “appropriately vetted Syrian opposition forces.”
The bill authorizes $300 million for a train-and-equip program for Syrian opposition forces that fight terror groups in that country. The money, though, will remain unavailable until Congress receives that report and the administration’s delinquent Syria strategy, which was due to Congress Feb. 1.
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