Senior U.S. commanders argued that increasing electricity through the “Kandahar Bridging Solution” would be an important part of the overall American military effort to beat back the Taliban in Kandahar province. Those commanders asserted that more power to operate lights, television sets and fans would please residents and lead many of them to throw their support behind the Afghan government.
But other civilian and military officials have questioned that logic. When U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl was the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Kandahar last year, he said he could not find any evidence that the additional electricity was yielding greater employment, stability or support for the government. “This is a bridge to nowhere,” he declared to his staff in 2011.
Back then, Dahl also noticed a disturbing disparity: The installation of the turbine at the dam, which will not occur for at least two more years, will produce significantly less power than the city receives from the generators. Since the Afghan government will not have the financial ability to buy diesel for the generators, that means the city’s power supply will inevitably ebb once the turbine is operational and U.S. funding for diesel ends.
That gap was seized upon by the inspector general. “While the Kandahar Bridging Solution may achieve some immediate [counterinsurgency] benefits because — as stated by USAID officials — ‘people like having their lights on,’ the U.S. government may be building an expectations gap that cannot be met in a timely manner,” the report states.
The inspector general’s report also questions whether a new $23 million road in Helmand province will have adverse effects because the Afghan government has not compensated landowners for the destruction of their property. In addition, the report reveals that four electricity projects — costing a total of more than $300 million from the infrastructure fund — have not yet been awarded to contractors, despite claims from the military and USAID that they will have important counterinsurgency benefits.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a frequent critic of Afghan reconstruction efforts, said the report raises fundamental questions about the strategic rationale of U.S. development programs in the war-torn nation. “There’s no data that shows these major projects have changed the security environment in the country,” she said. “We cannot just throw money at a country like this and expect it to have a good ending.”
In its response to the report, the U.S. Embassy defended the importance of large-scale development initiatives. “These critical infrastructure projects have signaled to Afghan populations the U.S. government’s long term commitment to Afghanistan.”
Although the United States has spent almost $90 billion on Afghan reconstruction and development over the past decade, such examinations traditionally had not been conducted by the special inspector general’s office, which was more interested in contracting waste and fraud. This report was approved by a new inspector, former federal prosecutor John F. Sopko, who took charge of the office this month. He has vowed to scrutinize how projects are conceptualized and designed, not just how they are implemented.