Small Wars Journal

Audit of DOD and USAID's $2.8 Billion Investment in Afghanistan's Road Infrastructure

Yesterday, SIGAR released an audit of DOD and USAID's $2.8 billion investment in Afghanistan's road infrastructure.

The audit notes:

-- Since 2002, USAID and DOD have spent approximately $2.8 billion to construct and repair Afghanistan’s road infrastructure, and perform capacity-building activities.

-- An Afghan Ministry of Public Works’ (MOPW) official stated that 20 percent of the roads were destroyed and the remaining 80 percent continue to deteriorate.

-- USAID estimated that unless maintained, it would cost about $8.3 billion to replace Afghanistan’s road infrastructure, and estimated that 54 percent of Afghanistan’s road infrastructure suffered from poor maintenance and required rehabilitation beyond simple repairs.

-- SIGAR inspections of 20 road segments found that 19 segments had road damage ranging from deep surface cracks to roads and bridges destroyed by weather or insurgents. 17 segments were either poorly maintained or not maintained at all.

-- MOPW’s continued inability to maintain Afghanistan’s road infrastructure threatens to waste the billions of dollars that the U.S. government has already invested in Afghanistan’s road infrastructure since 2002.

-- MOPW officials noted that Afghanistan’s road infrastructure plays an important role in the country’s development and governance, and if the Kabul to Kandahar highway were to become impassable, the central government would collapse.

-- The continued deterioration of the road infrastructure could weaken the Afghan government’s reach throughout the country, inhibit commerce, and restrict the freedom of movement of Afghans.

-- MOPW officials stated that it would cost $100 million annually to carry out the necessary emergency, routine, periodic, and winter maintenance on Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. However, between 2011 and 2016, MOPW received an average of $21.3 million annually.

-- Road maintenance remains highly underfunded, and the MOPW needs to develop additional revenue streams or rely on donors to make up a $500 million budget shortfall anticipated for the next 5 years.

-- Without tangible Afghan government action to support the needed reforms, the effective management and sustainment of Afghanistan’s road infrastructure will remain an elusive goal.

-- One MOPW official stated that Afghanistan was working to conduct and fund its own road maintenance, but also insisted that donors would fund and perform necessary road maintenance if it could not.

-- According to a former U.S. Forces–Afghanistan (USFOR-A) official, the Afghan government would always sign the required sustainment memorandum acknowledging that it had the responsibility and capability to sustain a project, despite not always having the capability to do so.

-- Donor initiatives to build technical capacity at MOPW did not achieve meaningful reforms and did not have a significant or lasting impact.