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U.S. risks wasting billions in Afghan reconstruction: watchdog

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WASHINGTON — Millions of dollars in US funds have been lost due to poor planning and workmanship in projects to help rebuild Afghanistan and billions more could be at risk, according to a US watchdog.

The report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan, John Sopko, warned that handing over security to Afghan forces as the US withdraws its troops would also likely cause the costs of US-funded aid schemes to balloon.

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“The United States risks wasting billions of dollars if US-funded development programs cannot be sustained, either by the Afghan government or by continued donor support,” said the report released on Monday.

“As this report to Congress illustrates, a decade of struggle and bloodshed — and more than $89 billion of US appropriations for Afghan reconstruction — has not cleared the landscape of serious problems,” Sopko wrote.

He added that a “significant portion of the US government’s $400 million investment in large-scale infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 may be wasted, due to weaknesses in planning, coordination and execution.”

The report comes as NATO countries, led by the United States, have already started to withdraw the remaining 130,000 troops after more than 10 years of war, with all combat forces due to have left by the end of 2014.

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And it warns that handing over security to Afghan forces will likely incur greater costs at construction sites.

Audits of various projects taking place across the country found significant construction problems and flaws.

“The US Army accepted contract construction that is so poor it prevents some multimillion-dollar border police bases from being used as intended,” the report noted.

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Three police border posts in eastern Nangarhar province were found to have major construction faults, including poorly-built guard towers, unconnected drains and badly-installed heating and ventilation systems.

“These problems included the lack of a viable water supply, a poorly constructed septic system, and inadequate sewage,” the report said, adding nothing has been repaired as there is no effective quality assurance in place.

The basement of one of the buildings was now being used as a chicken coop, it added.

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The analysis examines the Afghan Infrastructure Fund, which was authorized by Congress in 2010. Over the past two years, Congress has invested $800 million into the fund, and the State Department has committed about $1 billion of its funds to related infrastructure programs.

Following complaints about shoddy workmanship, there had been arrests and charges brought in both the United States and Afghanistan and more than $900,000 had been recovered.

Several contracts were also withdrawn when poor contractors were uncovered, leading to the protection of some $50 million in contract funds. Two people had been convicted, one of theft and conspiracy.

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If US lawmakers approve a request from US President Barack Obama for new reconstruction funding, the United States will have provided nearly $100 billion since the 2002 US-led invasion to rebuilding Afghanistan.

That is several times more than the $35 billion, in 2011 terms, invested in Europe after World War II, the report said.

“Using that money effectively to improve security, governance, and socioeconomic development in Afghanistan poses tremendous challenges,” Sopko wrote.

“In the face of serious uncertainties about project sustainability, the need for sharp and effective oversight grows more critical.”

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Sopko vowed his office would step up its oversight, saying security and sustainability were the biggest challenges for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

“Many billions of dollars of US investments in Afghanistan may be wasted without arrangements to ensure that the Afghans have adequate personnel, skills, access to technology, funding, and planning and oversight mechanisms to sustain them,” he warned.


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Internet laughs off press secretary’s claims of presidential calm: ‘How often has Trump struck you as ‘measured’

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President Donald Trump isn't exactly known for being calm or measured, but that's what his White House is claiming he was during a meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders.

"[email protected] was measured & decisive today. @SpeakerPelosi walking out was baffling but not surprising w NO intention of participating in a mtg on nat’l security. Dem “leadership” chose to storm out & whine to cameras, everyone else stayed to work on behalf of our country," tweeted Stephanie Grisham.

It prompted CNN's Chris Cillizza to inquire when Trump ever struck someone as "measured."

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Republicans lack the ‘moxie’ to defend America’s Kurdish allies in Syria: Ex-RNC Chair

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Republicans will criticize President Donald Trump on foreign policy, but lack the nerve to do anything meaningful to protect America's Kurdish allies in northern Syria, the former chair of the Republican Party explained on MSNBC on Wednesday.

MSNBC's Chuck Todd interviewed Steele about what it would take for Republicans to serve as a check on the president.

"I think the only way to make him change his mind is -- he’s got to think they might walk," Todd said.

"Well, that would require a level of moxie that we haven’t seen from the leadership," Steele replied.

"On the foreign policy space, I think that’s the one area where we’ve seen people actually start to push back rhetorically," he noted. "But I don’t know if internally they’ve really sat down with the president and go, 'This is how damaging this is, this is how troublesome it is, and this is the problem you’re having inside the caucus.' I just don’t — at least from the folks I’ve talked to, I haven’t gotten the sense they’ve gone there yet."

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‘Ignorance at the highest level’: Intel Democrat slams Trump for bizarre letter to Turkish president

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On Wednesday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, ripped President Donald Trump for his juvenile letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

"The White House just released the text of the less letter that the president sent to Erdo?an of Turkey, among other things, saying in the aftermath of the earlier decision by the U.S. to pull out troops, saying 'Don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool,'" said anchor Wolf Blitzer. "What is your reaction to that?"

"You know, I'll be honest, I saw this online first. I got a copy of the letter," said Quigley. "I actually thought it was a prank, a joke. It couldn't possibly come from the Oval Office. It sounded all of the world like the president of the United States, in some sort of momentary lapse, just dictated angrily whatever was on the top of his head. These are extraordinarily serious issues. And an extraordinarily dangerous part of the world."

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