Equipment that the U.S. provided to the Afghan government to improve customs inspections at border crossings went unused and fell into disrepair after U.S. troops handed it over to the Afghans, the inspector general reported Friday.
The drive-through scanners were procured for a total of $12 million and installed at five customs and border inspection checkpoints points in Afghanistan starting in 2006. U.S. advisers and contractors provided training and maintenance on those systems through 2014.
All but one of the checkpoints ceased to be operational after 2014, when U.S. forces initially ceased combat operations in Afghanistan and redeployed.
“Our site inspections showed that, outside of Kabul, the equipment became inoperable nearly as soon as [U.S. advisers] left the border locations and the equipment was turned over to the Afghan government,” reported the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.
“With no presence at the Afghan borders since 2014, the U.S. investment in [inspection] equipment — and the hopes for using that equipment for meaningful improvements — relies on the Afghan government,” SIGAR reported.
“Unfortunately, at this point, it appears that the Afghan government has been unable or unwilling to sustain that investment. Worse, without the use of the [inspection] equipment, there is little to prevent the rampant commercial smuggling and cross-border narcotics trade that has continually plagued Afghan borders,” SIGAR found.
In response, U.S. Central Command took issue with the idea that the now-unused scanners represent programmatic waste. The program had worked successfully, and “would likely have continued to develop and professionalize the Afghan customs and border security institutions,” if U.S. policy had not directed withdrawal in 2014, CENTCOM wrote.
However, the command agreed, with emphasis, on the inspector general’s conclusion of the challenge facing reconstruction efforts: That failure is due to a lack of Afghan will or ability to sustain the program.
“The report’s conclusions fully capture many of the problems U.S. and coalition governments had, and continue to have, with reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan,” the command said. “CENTCOM recommends SIGAR re-title the report to reflect the lack of Afghan government will or capacity to sustain the program as a lesson learned for future reconstruction efforts.”
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."