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Failures In Afghanistan


America's efforts to stabilize much of war-torn Afghanistan over the last 15 years have been an abject failure. That is the conclusion that the government watchdog over America's role in Afghanistan came to this week. America's longest war has been plagued by bad strategies, leading to the death of more than 2,200 U.S. soldiers, billions of dollars wasted and a country in turmoil. On this Memorial Day weekend, we wanted to stop and look at what's gone wrong and see if there is a chance for a course correction. With us now is John Sopko. He is the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, whose office published this report. Welcome to the program.

JOHN SOPKO: Very good to talk to you this morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been in this role now for six years. Give us an example of an incident that illustrates the larger problem that's in this report.

SOPKO: First of all, stabilization, which is what this report was about, was a $4.7 billion program to try to stabilize the districts that had been cleared of the Taliban and tried to get the people there to accept and to work with a new government in Afghanistan. The problem was we focused on building too many schools, too much infrastructure, too many bridges and other infrastructure than were necessary. If you look at how the Taliban - one of the services they offered was dispute resolution. So instead of focusing on doing honest and fair dispute resolution, we decided to build courthouses. We decided to hire prosecutors, hire judges, train them. The focus should have been on the end result.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think they didn't get it right? Who are the people who are implementing America's strategy on the ground? Did they understand what they were dealing with?

SOPKO: Partially, they did. It's hard to blame just the people on the ground. You have to realize that when we started here there was an urgency, and that was one of the problems. There was an urgency to do this before the drawdown that occurred. So there were unrealistic timelines totally unrelated to the conditions on the ground. So as a result, I think the people did the best they could. But I think it was an unrealistic timeline given to them. Most of this money was actually spent between 2009 and 2011. So I think that is the crux of the problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This happened primarily under the Obama administration. Do we see something different happening now?

SOPKO: We do to some extent. The new administration program is more focused on the conditions on the ground and not a specific timeline. The new proposals in Afghanistan have incorporated actually a lot of recommendations that we have made on trying to get more trained advise-and-assist units down to other levels of the military. So we are seeing some changes, some positive changes, but it still is not going to be easy and it still is not going to be done anytime soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Sopko is the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. Thank you very much.

SOPKO: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.