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Billions in Afghanistan aid dollars unaccounted for: audit

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WASHINGTON — Nearly 18 billion dollars earmarked for reconstruction in Afghanistan remain unaccounted for, snagged in a “labyrinth” of contract bureaucracy, a sweeping US government audit has shown.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said 17.7 billion dollars was obligated over three years to nearly 7,000 contractors, but the Pentagon, State Department and US Agency for International Development were unable to say how much money has been spent.

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The audit addresses fiscal years 2007 through 2009, but the problems go back to 2002 when the United States began funding Afghan reconstruction, because “much of the data available from the agencies prior to 2007 was too poor to be analyzed,” the report said.

And years into the reconstruction there is still no central government database to monitor the projects from various US agencies and departments, SIGAR found in its report, which was seen Thursday by AFP.

“Prior to this audit report there was no comprehensive study on contractors and the money the US is spending through contractors on Afghan reconstruction,” said special inspector general Arnold Fields in the first such snapshot of the reconstruction contracting environment in war-torn Afghanistan.

“This audit is crucial because if we don’t even know who we’re giving money to, it is nearly impossible to conduct system-wide oversight.”

Reconstruction is a key component in a US-led anti-insurgency effort which seeks to stabilize the volatile south and east of Afghanistan, in part by helping Afghan farmers and improving local government.

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Asked about the report, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said it did not come as a surprise and that the administration has been working to improve accountability.

“I don’t think we’re surprised that as we’re going through this, we’re going to have reports like this that show weaknesses,” Crowley told reporters.

He said the report would contribute to “our efforts to improve our cooperation with the Afghan government and improve the ability of the Afghan government to be responsible and accountable for the support that we do provide.”

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The SIGAR said its report, addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US ambassador to Baghdad Karl Eikenberry, “shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best.”

It said the Department of Defense alone has four organizations set up to track Pentagon-funded contracts, but they do not share information. Cross-agency information sharing is also minimal, it found.

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SIGAR, mandated by Congress to try and track reconstruction spending, identified nearly 7,000 contractor groups, including for-profit and non-profit groups as well as government agencies involved in Afghanistan.

Among the largest contracts, it said, is a deal worth 1.8 billion dollars to a US-based company to train Afghanistan’s national police forces, and 691 million dollars to an Afghan construction firm to build military facilities.

The future of the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is believed to be in jeopardy because of President Hamid Karzai’s threatened ban on private security guards, which aid organizations rely on for protection.

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Laughter breaks out inside hearing room as Dem mocks GOP’s attempts to downplay smear campaign against Yovanovitch

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During the second public House impeachment hearing this Friday, Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) took a dig at President Trump in light of testimony from former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who recounted how she became the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, along with the help of the right-wing news media. After her ouster from her position, Yovanovitch returned to Washington and took up a role as a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

"It's like a Hallmark movie -- you ended up at Georgetown. This is all okay," Quigley said sarcastically, prompting laughter from the room.

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Press secretary claims Trump tweet ‘not witness intimidation’ because it is ‘not a trial’ — but president says it is

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White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham says President Donald Trump did not engage in witness intimidation Friday morning when he, in real time, posted tweets attacking his former Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, during her testimony before a House impeachment inquiry hearing. Trump is being accused by Democrats and Republicans alike of witness intimidation or witness tampering, with even Fox News anchors saying Trump’s tweets constitute an additional article of impeachment.

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GOP lawmaker ducks question after Yovanovitch asks why it was necessary to smear her reputation

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Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) on Friday got more than he bargained for while questioning former American ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Toward the end of his questioning, Wenstrup argued that President Donald Trump has the power to hire and dismiss ambassadors as he sees fit in order to enact his preferred foreign policy.

"The president has the right to make their own foreign policy and to make his own decisions, and with that I yield back," he said.

Yovanovitch, however, was unwilling to let it end there and she asked to supplement her testimony.

"While I obviously don't dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation?" she asked Wenstrup.

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