By Paul Lacapruccia
Billions wasted. Billions more to come in waste. That is how I can sum up the current efforts in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces draw down to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, I wonder how many Americans know how much money we still spend there. I wonder how many Americans know how much of the money we spend there goes to lining the pockets of endemically corrupt officials. I wonder if we are all aware the Marshall Plan cost less.
When you’re in the Khyber Pass, on the busiest legal Afghani/Pakistani border crossing point, teaching Afghan border police how to find smugglers, you can have success. I watched Afghani officers I trained seize drugs and weapons using techniques my colleagues and I taught them. You can become optimistic (even when Taliban fighters attack your base several times a week) because you see a border crossing point improve as its individual officers improve. That is where optimism ends.
In Kabul, I watched the U.S. government throw money away in aid toward the Afghan Customs Department. This is not to say the U.S. aid money does no good, but it is ultimately in vain. The U.S. taxpayer and Western allies are slated to continue spending aid money in Afghanistan even as military forces draw down.
The Afghan government is supposed to meet revenue benchmarks in order to keep its funding from donor nations. However, Afghan officials have chosen to line their pockets rather than meet these benchmarks.
Customs revenue for the Afghan government, according to data from the Customs Department, was stagnant for the years 2009 to 2012 while overall trade rose some 20 percent. The implications are obvious. Customs officials, even Ministry of Finance officials, are stealing Afghan government revenue. We are wasting our time and money.
Afghanistan has hundreds of thousands of armed, uniformed service members who are paid with our aid money. Most of them are illiterate drug addicts. I know. I trained them. What do we think the end game will be when we finally shut off the aid money in this corrupt government? They have no real economy except the opium poppy. We might as well end it all sooner rather than later.
All troops should come home, other than those absolutely necessary to protect our diplomatic mission. All aid money should cease. Interpreters who worked for the U.S. military and contracting corporations should be given U.S. visas. These brave Afghans put their lives on the line daily for my colleagues and me. They need to be given what they were promised. But we need to leave as a country and leave now.
Paul Lacapruccia, of Buffalo, is a law student at the University at Buffalo and a former member of the Border Management Task Force training Afghan border guards.