(This post has been updated.)
Though stories of the United States wasting taxpayer dollars to rebuild Afghanistan are common, the federal government always proudly pointed to its successes investing in education there.
But now, it seems, those achievements were likely inflated.
Turns out the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) statistics that student enrollment had jumped from 900,000 in 2002 to 8 million in 2013 were based on figures provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education. And that data might have been made up.
There’s been claims by the new government under Ashraf Ghani, which came to power last fall, that the Karzai administration lied about the number of open schools as a means to get more funding.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) demanded an explanation in a June 11 letter to USAID that was embargoed until Thursday.
“The Ministers reported that there are no active schools in insecure parts of the country, and that former officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams,” Inspector General John F. Sopko wrote. “These allegations suggest that U.S. and other donors may have paid for schools that students do not attend and for the salaries of teachers who do not teach.”
As of March 31, 2015, USAID spent $769 million supporting education in Afghanistan, according to SIGAR.
“Does USAID have an estimate of how much U.S. money may have been spent on ghost schools, ghost teachers, and ghost administrators?” Sopko asks in the letter.
In a statement to the Loop, Larry Sampler, USAID’s assistant administrator in the office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, said they are looking into it.
“USAID takes seriously any allegations of manipulated or falsified data,” Sampler said. “We have asked the Ministry of Education for more information regarding the Minister’s statement. Like all USAID projects in Afghanistan, USAID-implemented education projects adhere to the Agency’s strict practices for monitoring their performance and success.”
In an interview Wednesday with Al Jazeera America, Sopko discussed bluntly how and why taxpayer dollars have been wasted in Afghanistan in the years since the U.S overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
“We have to remember why we are there in Afghanistan,” he said. “We are there to kick the bad guys out and then to help create an Afghan government that will get the support of their people to keep the bad guys out. You lose that support when you build things that fall down.”
Or when they’re not built at all.