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SIGAR: America’s eyes in Afghanistan 9 August 2011

Posted by USNA Class of 1976 in News.
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The Frontier Post

National Daily Published from Peshawar and Quetta

SIGAR: America’s eyes in Afghanistan

September 24, 2009

KAPISA PROVINCE (Agencies): An inspection team, charged with providing oversight of funds used for development in Afghanistan, visited the Nijrab valley, to inspect construction projects and report findings to U.S. Government officials. Members from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction travelled with members of Kapisa/Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team to inspect seven projects during a two-day period, including three roads and four schools in the region.

Guy Sands, assistant inspector general for inspections, joined SIGAR’s deputy chief of staff, Bradley Little, on the PRT-led mission. U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Graham Auten, a civil engineer with the PRT, introduced the SIGAR team to Afghan contractors while mentoring workers at the various sites.

As the public looks for transparency with how America’s tax dollars are being used to develop Afghanistan, SIGAR provides the answer. It gives reports to Congress quarterly, detailing the effectiveness of Afghanistan reconstruction programs while detecting any waste, fraud and abuse of the money used to execute them.

As the PRT interviews contractors about construction methods, Sands asks locals about big-picture issues related to the projects. For example, while Auten inquires about the quality of mortar used at the Kohi Girls School, Sands inquires as to the number of teachers that will be available and the likelihood for long-term education in the region. According to Sands, such scrutiny is what the public expects. “The mission of SIGAR is to deploy forward with auditors and inspectors to ensure projects are built to standard and can be sustained,” said Sands. “We also have investigators who prepare for prosecutions when evidence of wrongdoing or criminal misconduct is present.”

Little is an engineer, who, as part of SIGAR, provides expertise that is helpful when compiling the data to be presented to Congress. He knows about quality and the importance of following established methods when building structures. “The truth is these are fairly sophisticated construction projects for Afghanistan,” said Little. However, a lack of common standards can hinder progress. “We saw three different schools (during this visit,)” said Little. “Each showed us three different levels of performance.”

Little’s conclusions will be drawn from such findings. Both men agree it takes effective oversight to ensure a quality product upon completion, but clarify that SIGAR should not be the only set of eyes on site. Aside from SIGAR and military engineers like the PRT’s Auten, Sands expects more involvement from Afghan government officials in the districts they serve. “It’s time we move away from the idea of Americans doing everything,” said Sands. We need to get the (Afghan) Line Ministry involved,” Sands added. “They need to be out there, looking at these projects and ensuring that the contractors that are getting paid are doing (the work) to standard, and assisting in solving the occasional problems that arise, rather than running to the PRT.”

Auten understands the need for increased involvement. “My job is to help ensure quality work by performing quality assessments on projects and helping contractors with the technical aspects of their work,” said Auten. “When problems arise, I try to point them in the direction of their local government officials rather than simply solving it myself.

SIGAR’s visit today helped me reinforce that message with the people I work with.” As part of the U.S. non-kinetic effort in the country, more than $38 billion has been appropriated for reconstruction and development since 2001, including over $5 billion for fiscal year 2009.

To those who are concerned about how building roads and schools helps fight insurgents, Sands and Little offer a reminder of how development supports success. “For every school, every health facility built to standard with qualified medical personnel, those are places where the metrics of violence will eventually go down,” said Sands. “Once you show that the people are receiving services and goods from their government that is one less place where coalition forces will have to put boots on the ground.”

Little agreed with Sands and iterated the importance of the reconstruction projects. “Some say that we (the Coalition) don’t know how to win a war like this … that’s not true,” said Little. “What we’re doing on the non-kinetic side is where the war is going to be won or lost. This (reconstruction) is, in every sense of the word, the front lines of this war.”

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