Millions of U.S. tax dollars on Afghan road to nowhere

Image: Mountain road
An excavator working on a mountain road in Afghanistan in 2016. Copyright Eric Lafforgue
Copyright Eric Lafforgue
By Alastair Jamieson with NBC News World News
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The U.S. has spent more money reconstructing Afghanistan than it did rebuilding Europe after World War II.


Call it the road to nowhere.

A highway in Afghanistan, partly funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars, is largely unbuilt after 12 years of construction work according to inspectors who say it might never be completed.

The 145-mile section of road, from Qeysar in northern Faryab province to Laman in western Badghis province, was supposed to form part of the country's orbital freeway — a major economic thoroughfare connecting major cities.

But only 15 percent of the expressway is finished, even though one-third of the budget has been spent.

Auditors blame the country's increasingly dire security situation, as well as more conventional problems such as local contractor incompetence.

A dirt crossroads in the unbuilt Afghan highway.
A dirt crossroads in the unbuilt Afghan highway.Sigar

At least 19 workers on the project have been abducted and one of them killed, according to a report published Thursday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The violence is so bad that Afghan officials are struggling to find any bidders willing to work on the road, SIGAR found.

The Taliban controls 14.5 percent of Afghanistan's districts — the highest level recorded in recent years, and the country is plagued by attacks and bombings by ISIS and the Taliban that have claimed hundreds of lives.

The U.S.-led coalition "will continue" to fight militants, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month, in a campaign to push the Taliban to the peace table. Indeed, the Taliban announced a brief cease-fire earlier this month to coincide with the end of Ramadan.


The U.S. has spent more money reconstructing Afghanistan than it did rebuilding Europe at the end of World War II. It's part of a wider aim among allies to improve regional security and reduce terrorism — but a separate SIGAR report published in May concluded that the 15-year, $5 billion U.S. effort hasn't worked.

Washington is the second-biggest contributor to the Asian Development Bank, which allocates reconstruction funds. The bank has authorized $721 million for the Qeysar to Laman road since 2006, of which $249 million, had been spent by the end of 2017.

An excavator working on a mountain road in Afghanistan in 2016.
An excavator working on a mountain road in Afghanistan in 2016.Eric Lafforgue

The project has been dogged by so many problems that there was no physical progress at all from March 2014 through September 2017, SIGAR found. In fact, the delay "almost certainly eroded much of the limited work that had been completed prior to that period," it said.

One contractor was fired after it failed to construct a single inch of highway over a three-year period but left $25.5 million in outstanding payments to subcontractors.

"While we hope for success, we are left without any indication that the circumstances have improved sufficiently to warrant a high degree of confidence that the project will be completed, that more money will not be wasted, or that more security incidents will not occur," SIGAR said.

Many other taxpayer-funded projects have ended in similar failure, such as the Pentagon's purchase of $28 million worth on forest camouflage uniforms for the Afghan army that proved useless in the local desert, and a $36 million military command facility that has never been used.

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