A $1.2 billion mystery in Afghanistan

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“If the Afghan government did manage to recover the Taliban funds from overzealous Western agents, $3 billion may not be the most they would end up getting.”

What’s Behind the Bill?

The insurgency in Afghanistan has been holding up international development projects in the country for years. Since 2010, Taliban fighters have destroyed bridges, plundered power plants, shut down roads, destroyed water sources, and laid landmines and military obstacles across Afghanistan. According to a 2016 report by the United Nations, about $20 billion in foreign assistance has been sent to Afghanistan since 2001. More than half of that money was spent on basic infrastructure and education projects.

The Taliban is fighting the Afghan government and security forces for territory and resources. The Islamist militant group has never lost a war in Afghanistan, and in 2014, managed to briefly seize large parts of the country. Nevertheless, the Taliban has been losing fighting recently. In 2016, the National Unity Government, a coalition of two rival presidential candidates, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, managed to restore order and avert another Taliban advance.

The Afghan government maintained a tenuous grip over security forces for years and racked up a record number of casualties due to the Taliban’s tenacious insurgency, which devastated infrastructure and led to shortages of medical and other supplies and equipment. In August 2015, Ghani proposed the creation of a panel to manage a $1.2 billion international assistance fund for Afghanistan that had been frozen since 2009. Ghani’s plan would have established an independent oversight committee, led by the country’s attorney general and including experts from the government and security services, to determine how much Afghan money was being looted by the Taliban and other armed groups.

According to the White House’s 2017 Afghan Enduring Assistance Plan, some $5.7 billion in previously frozen financial assistance is “eligible for disbursement as per recommendations” by the United States. The $11 billion war fighting budget has not seen any decrease since 2013. So far, the new Afghan Government has been unable to convince donors to release funds yet, which means that the amount in question will remain frozen.

Central to the new fiscal management plan was to establish a centralized “independent office of counterterrorism for Afghanistan,” where government and security forces officials would cooperate closely with law enforcement to “identify, investigate, and prosecute” cases of corruption and illicit activities. The National Counter Terrorism Authority, which would provide oversight for any money that was withheld from the government, and the attorney general’s office have both signed off on the plan. But in the absence of signed letters from many key partners, including the United States, the plan remains essentially stalled.

How Do You Unlock the Money?

How to Unlock the Funds?

In October 2016, President Trump signed a directive directing the Pentagon to “develop options for a prompt, safe, and decisive military response against North Korea.” According to the document, the options would include air strikes or an amphibious assault to “destabilize” or remove the regime of dictator Kim Jong-un.

Upon signing the directive, Trump ordered Vice President Mike Pence to press the Congressional leadership to sign off on the 2017 Enduring Assistance Plan, which would have transferred $1.2 billion dollars to Afghanistan. Since then, the Afghan Government has been unable to convince any of its key partners to release the aid. According to the National Counterterrorism Authority, the Afghan government has only been able to unlock about $400 million. This new Washington Post series profiles the struggle to get the rest of the $1.2 billion out of the country.

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