Key Issues for Congressional Oversight

GAO-09-473SP: Published: Apr 21, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 2009.


  • GAO: Afghanistan's Rugged TerrainVIDEO: Afghanistan's Rugged Terrain
    The video provides an example of the mountainous and rugged terrain of Afghanistan. Video courtesy of USAID.
  • GAO: Keshim-Faizabad Road: An Example of Poor Afghan Road ConditionsVIDEO: Keshim-Faizabad Road: An Example of Poor Afghan Road Conditions
    The video shows a portion of the rocky, unpaved road from Keshim to Faizabad, an example of poor Afghan road conditions. Video courtesy of USAID.
  • GAO: Advancing U.S. Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (Content as of March 23, 2009)VIDEO: Advancing U.S. Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (Content as of March 23, 2009)
    Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers, GAO Managing Director, International Affairs and Trade, discusses issues related to advancing US efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as part of GAO's 2009 Congressional and Presidential Transition work.

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Charles M. Johnson, Jr
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The United States has provided approximately $38.6 billion in reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan and has over 35,000 troops in the country as of February 2009. Some progress has occurred in areas such as economic growth, infrastructure development, and training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but the overall security situation in Afghanistan has not improved after more than 7 years of U.S. and international efforts. In response, the new administration plans to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops1 to Afghanistan this year, and has completed a strategic review of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on our past work and the significance of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to the overall U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, we have highlighted Afghanistan as an urgent oversight issue facing this Congress. The government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the international community, developed the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which was finalized in June 20083, as a guiding document for achieving Afghanistan's reconstruction goals. The ANDS articulates the priorities of the government of Afghanistan as consisting of four major areas: (1) security; (2) governance, rule of law, and human rights; (3) economic and social development; and (4) counternarcotics. The United States adopted the ANDS as a guiding document for its efforts, and has also identified an end state for Afghanistan using four strategic goals: namely, that Afghanistan is: (1) never again a safe haven for terrorists and is a reliable, stable ally in the Global War on Terror (GWOT); (2) moderate and democratic, with a thriving private sector economy; (3) capable of governing its territory and borders; and (4) respectful of the rights of all its citizens. In discussing his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009, the President noted his goals were to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. In addition, according to Department of State (State) officials, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is assembling provincial plans for security and development. Department of Defense (DOD), State, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials have suggested that securing, stabilizing, and reconstructing Afghanistan will take at least a decade and require continuing international assistance.

Security in Afghanistan has worsened significantly in the last 3 years, impeding both U.S. and international partners' efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. The security situation, including the overall increase in insurgent attacks from 2005 to 2008, is the result of a variety of factors including a resurgence of the Taliban in the south, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, a continuing and thriving illicit drug trade in the south, and the threat emanating from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2009, the United States provided approximately $38.6 billion to support Afghanistan's reconstruction goals, which can often be characterized as construction. According to DOD, $22 billion of the $38.6 billion has been disbursed. Over half of the $38.6 billion was provided to support the development of the Afghan national army and police forces. Almost a third of the funding was provided to support economic and social development efforts, such as the construction of roads and schools, and the remainder was provided to governance, rule of law, and human rights and counternarcotics programs. Since 2003, we have issued 21 reports and testimonies on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Over the course of this work we have identified improvements that were needed as well as many obstacles that affect success and should be considered in program planning and implementation. In most of the U.S. efforts in the past, we found the need for improved planning, including the development of coordinated interagency plans that include measurable goals, specific time frames, cost estimates, and identification of external factors that could significantly affect efforts in key areas such as building Afghanistan's national security forces. We also concluded that several existing conditions, such as worsening security; the lack of a coordinated, detailed interagency plan; and the limited institutional capacity of the Afghanistan government continue to create challenges to the U.S. efforts to assist with securing, stabilizing, and rebuilding Afghanistan. To assist the 111th Congress, GAO is highlighting key issues for consideration in developing oversight agendas and determining the way forward in securing and stabilizing Afghanistan. Significant oversight will be needed to help ensure visibility over the cost and progress of these efforts. The suggested areas for additional oversight include the following topics: (1) U.S. and international commitments, (2) Security environment, (3) U.S. forces and equipment, (4) Afghan national security forces, (5) Counternarcotics efforts, (6) Economic development, (7) Government capacity, (8) Accountability for U.S. provided weapons, and (9) Oversight of contractor performance.

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