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The United States’ Response to Corruption in Afghanistan

The article below was published in the Spring 2018 edition of Active Measures, IWP’s student journal. 

This paper offers an analysis of how systemic corruption impacted U.S. nation building efforts in Afghanistan, and briefly overviews how corruption has grown in and impacted Afghan politics since the days of the Soviet invasion. The paper then looks at anti-corruption efforts by the U.S. and allies, and the various agencies and organizations that are now dedicated to identifying and preventing corruption, fraud, and waste in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. There are also some ways in which the U.S. has not prevented corruption, ways in which a lack of proper oversight has contributed to corruption, and instances wherein local actors in Afghanistan have worked with both U.S. and criminal elements, taking U.S. money while assisting criminal or insurgent forces. The paper ends with a brief conclusion and offers some policy recommendations to build on and replicate the successes of U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan.

When the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, many officials were optimistic about U.S. efforts in the country, and what they were sure would be a quick victory. Sixteen years later, that optimism is long gone, and the American people have become almost inured to the ongoing conflict and violence in Afghanistan. To be sure, the military victory over the Taliban was decisive – CIA and U.S. Special Forces, with the help of local Afghan partners, decimated the Taliban and al Qaeda forces in less than three months.[1]

However, the military victory that sent the Taliban running for the border of Pakistan has been followed by over a decade of nation-building efforts with limited success. What some hoped would be a new Marshall Plan has instead been sixteen years of sacrificing resources, and more importantly, human lives, for very limited gains. Afghanistan today is still mired in conflict between International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), U.S. and Afghan forces, and insurgent troops. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) still need more training before they become self-reliant. It is uncertain whether ANSF troops, particularly the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), are capable of maintaining order and resisting the Taliban without international help.

This paper does not seek to identify every misstep or issue with American efforts in Afghanistan – indeed, no single article or book could cover every aspect of a war. This paper will look at how corruption at various levels in Afghanistan has undermined U.S. nation-building efforts, prolonged the conflict, and has led to limited success in America’s longest war. This paper is not intended as a critique of any unit, branch, department, or administration, but an analysis of how the issue of corruption has impacted efforts in Afghanistan, and what the United States has done, both beneficial and counter-productive, about corruption.

Brief Overview of the Role of Corruption in Afghanistan Conflict

After U.S. military and intelligence operations in 2002 forced the Taliban to flee from seats of power in cities like Khandahar and Kabul into mountain hideouts near the border of Pakistan, it quickly became apparent that infrastructure and rule of law in Afghanistan were severely lacking. The Taliban had seized control of much of Afghanistan in 1996 after several years of devastating civil war between various militant and religious groups, known as the Mujahidin. That civil war was preceded by over a decade of insurgent resistance to occupation by the Soviet Union, whose military forces invaded in 1979. Decades of insurgency and war, followed by a few years of strict Taliban rule, had caused widespread devastation to the nation’s infrastructure and society. Millions had been killed, millions more had fled the country, large portions of the population were living in poverty, and entire districts in many major cities were in rubble. When the United States entered the country in late 2001, the nation-building efforts had almost no pre-existing infrastructure upon which to build.[2]

It was in this environment that U.S. and ISAF personnel began trying to build Afghanistan into a stable democracy. Knowing they needed domestic partners and allies, both for operational success against the Taliban and to create a stable government, U.S. personnel began forming partnerships with powerful Afghan groups and individuals. Some of the allies were committed to helping and developing the country; others were more interested in serving their own interests. For example, when U.S. military forces first entered the country to fight the Taliban in the days after 9/11, they allied with a group of anti-Taliban military leaders called the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance proved a useful ally in the initial operations that pushed the Taliban out of power. However, some of these leaders, who would soon be appointed to positions of authority in the new U.S.-backed government, were the same warlords that had devastated the country and committed atrocities in the civil wars during the 1990s. These leaders would now be operating from positions of authority and power with U.S. support.[3] This eroded the population’s trust in both their new government and in the United States, which undermined nation-building efforts.

The political arena was another area where initial optimism soured as a result of a lack of progress. Initially, the creation of a stable, functional democracy in Afghanistan seemed possible. In 2004, Afghanistan held elections resulting in the selection of Hamid Karzai, the first freely elected president of the Government of the Islamic Republica of Afghanistan (GIRoA) in the nation’s history. The next year, the GIRoA formed a bicameral Parliament. Over time, however, faith of both the Afghan people and the international community in this new administration faded, and trust waned. There were two serious causes for this occurrence: the lack of progress in development, which contributed to the ongoing conflict and danger that imperiled Afghans’ lives, and the perception of wide-spread corruption in the government.

As basic government services remained severely lacking in many parts of the nation, many Afghans found that their basic needs – like food, security, education, legal services, policing, etc. – could only be acquired by paying bribes, known as baksheesh. Baksheesh are payments demanded by civil servants and government officials such as police officers, judges, etc., that Afghan citizens are told to pay before the official will provide whatever services the citizen needs.  This is not to be confused with an official salary; a baksheesh is an off the record payment to convince an official to assist the citizen in need. According to the United Nations, Afghans pays $3.9 billion per year in bribes and similar ‘gratuities.’”[4] This practice occurred in the early days of the GIRoA and continues today.

Stories abounded of city officials demanding bribes and payments before doing their jobs and of police stopping citizens at checkpoints to demand payments.[5] Police, judges, utility providers, and other government services demanded baksheesh payments of Afghan citizens, as well as charging the normal fee for the service provided. U.S. Army officer T.S. Allen summarized the problem in Small Wars Journal in 2013: “Afghans say it is impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe… a quarter of Afghan people pay bribes and more than a third go without desired public services because they cannot afford bribe prices.”[6] Afghan citizens were being extorted, and to many Afghan citizens it seemed to be growing more prevalent as time passed. Perceptions are an important part of politics, and Afghan citizens’ perceptions of their government were worsening as baksheesh payments became more common. This weakened the influence of the government and thus lessened the pressure on the Taliban.

Bribery was rampant, not just at the local level but at the highest levels of government. Warlords, such as the Northern Alliance and others, were operating throughout the country with the permission and sanction of the Afghan government. Many were using their position and closeness with the government and U.S. military to control roads, secure lucrative contracts, establish themselves as regional powers,[7] and sometimes serve both sides, cooperating with both international and Taliban forces to maximize profits.[8]

The re-emergence of the Mujahidin and their inclusion in the political and security apparatus was a surprise to many Afghan government officials. One village elder recounted, “The major issue was that those who were part of the previous regimes came back to power… They (the warlords) did not expect this. They thought they would be sidelined…But to the contrary, they were brought back to power, giving them authority.”[9] Again, perceptions of corruption negatively affected how the Afghan people viewed the government. The new government, supported by the United States, was expected by many to be different than rulers of the past, but some of the same individuals who caused devastation and death in recent decades were included in the U.S.-supported GIRoA. The people of Afghanistan saw war criminals from the 1990s making money, going into business, receiving millions of dollars in contracts, and growing closer and closer to the Karzai administration.[10] To many Afghan citizens, it seemed they had a front row seat to watch a ruling elite make money off the war and conceal the profits overseas.[11] As baksheesh bribes and corrupt officials became more common, a growing portion of the population became disenchanted with the GIRoA, and the Karzai government lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.

A Gallup survey conducted in 2010 indicated that while exact numbers varied slightly by region, overall, many of the polled Afghan citizens were less trusting of national politicians than of local leaders, believed the court system needed improvement, and agreed that elections should be more transparent in the future.[12] Another survey that took place in Afghanistan in 2014 found a direct correlation between how many Afghan citizens perceived the fairness of elections and whether or not they viewed the GIRoA as legitimate or illegitimate. The more trustworthy or fair the surveyed citizens said a recent election had been, the more likely they were to describe the government as legitimate.[13] By this same logic, if citizens viewed an election as unfair or scandalous, they would be less likely to trust the politicians in power and would be more likely to view the government as illegitimate. Thus, seeing the closeness of the Mujahidin and the Karzai government would have discredited the election process and the elected officials in the eyes of many Afghan voters.

Perceptions of the Karzai government worsened, and, with it, approval of the United States also fell. Numerous factors contributed to the lower approval ratings and wavering trust in the Afghan government, such as: the prolonged violence and lack of security, the increase of bribes demanded from citizens, and the appointment of warlords to government positions. These warlords often used their official positions of authority to enrich themselves personally with both international contracts and low-level bribery. Bribery, baksheesh, and other forms of corruption were a growing part of the economy in Afghanistan. Government positions often were given to family members or to whomever paid the most for them. Many police, army, and Ministry of Internal Affairs positions were auctioned off for amounts several times greater than the official annual salary of the position, because it was widely known that those positions were in reality very lucrative due to bribes, contracts, and access to government funds. The Afghan people were aware that many in government were buying their way into power and were using that power to make money at the expense of the population.

Trust in the GIRoA continued to decrease, and an increasing number of citizens and villages cooperated with the Taliban to get security, legal arbitration, and other services. This decreasing trust in GIRoA institutions and the increased reliance on and cooperation with the Taliban was extremely counter-productive to U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan. Improved relations with citizens gave the Taliban more recruits, supplies, physical territory, and hiding places throughout Afghanistan. Efforts to establish rule of law require a level of public trust in the government, and public trust in the GIRoA was very low due to the pervasive corruption and bribery that seemed so prevalent to the Afghan people. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was severely hampered by the GIRoA struggle to gain legitimacy with its own people.

Since the United States was seen as the supporter and financer of the GIRoA, public opinion concerning the United States was closely tied to the approval rating of the Afghan government. Abuses by the Karzai government were seen as allowed by the United States, such as this complaint from a former police officer of Kandahar to U.S. anti-corruption expert, Sarah Chayes: “My neighbors pointed to the abusive behavior of the Afghan government. Given the U.S. role in ushering its officials into power and financing and protecting them, Afghans held the international community, and the United States in particular, responsible.[14] The baksheesh payments, and the auctioning of government positions, were seen by many Afghan citizens as either ignored or explicitly allowed by the United States.

As many citizens’ faith in the government deteriorated and a corrupt, self-serving elite was perceived to be the status quo in Afghanistan, many Afghan people became more likely to tolerate, or even join, the Taliban.[15] Afghan citizens needed services such as policing and legal courts, and those could only be acquired from the government by paying baksheesh. Due to this, many people looked for alternative providers, such as the Taliban. Interviews with Taliban fighters and commanders illustrate that the perception of corruption and criminal activity in the government was a constant element in their recruitment. One captured Taliban fighter from Helmand Province told his interrogator about witnessing daily extortion, theft, and murder, oftentimes committed by members of the GIRoA.[16] Witnessing abuses and theft by government personnel pushed some Afghan citizens to turn to the Taliban as an alternative provider of security, legal services, and infrastructure.

Interviewers, after 140 interviews with captured Taliban fighters and commanders, wrote in 2013, “There is widespread consensus among [village] elders interviewed that abusive governance was a major factor driving villagers towards the Taliban.”[17] The Taliban took advantage of worsening perceptions of the government, and used it to present themselves as the party of law and order, as a more reliable alternative to the government which many Afghan citizens saw as corrupt and only interested in self-enrichment. The ability to provide public services the GIRoA struggled to provide gave the Taliban increased legitimacy in many communities, allowing the insurgents more of a foothold in the nation.

Another interview with an Afghan elder revealed that the Taliban social and legal systems, and specifically their courts, were a draw for people disenfranchised with GIRoA courts, which often demanded bribes before hearing a dispute. Taliban court judgments were harsh, but reached verdicts within a few hours, and were much less likely to demand a bribe before reaching a decision.[18] Taliban justice, although strict and severe, was seen as a favorable alternative to the slow and corrupt courts of the government. As the perception grew that the Karzai government was more interested in personal enrichment than the fate of the country, it became more common for Afghan people in some provinces to turn to the Taliban for issues of administration, justice, and other public services, giving the Taliban amplified influence and legitimacy.[19] The Taliban used this perception to portray themselves as a more moral, more legal, and less corrupt alternative in many of their recruitment efforts. U.S. anti-corruption expert Chayes observed the impact of the perception of corruption while interviewing Khandahar citizens.

“‘No one would dirty his clothes getting near this government’ a Khandahar-area farmer exclaimed to me once…Many Afghans were swayed by the argument that government integrity could be achieved only through religious rectitude. Some appreciated the outlet that militancy provided for their anger. Still others just laid low, unwilling to take risks on behalf of a government that treated them almost as badly as the Taliban did. And it was all U.S. troops could do to keep that insurgency at bay.”[20]

That insurgency would plague the U.S. mission for the rest of the war and to this day. Even if they did not join the Taliban and take up arms against the ANSF or ISAF forces, many Afghan people were willing to tolerate Taliban activities in their communities. The more influence and control the Taliban had in a province, the more dangerous and chaotic the environment became for U.S. personnel. The corruption and self-serving acts of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan were helping the Taliban recruit fighters and exercise control over parts of the country, which in turn made the U.S. mission an increasingly uphill battle.

Positive U.S. Impact

Despite the severity of government corruption and how it contributed to perceptions that allowed the Taliban to return to many parts of the country, there have been some positive, effective anti-corruption efforts as well. U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have become a higher priority for U.S. leadership, and subsequently received increased resources and scholarly focus. This section will detail some of the steps of the U.S. military and civilian personnel aimed at reducing the impact of corrupt practices and systems in the country during its involvement in Afghan affairs.

Although slow to recognize the impact of corruption at first, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan came to recognize corruption as a serious threat that impacted the overall security situation. Upon realizing how often money for contracting projects was skimmed off for personal gains, the United States sought to more carefully limit and monitor U.S. money for various projects to verify its proper use. U.S. officials also tried reporting instances of theft and fraud to Afghan counterparts, with limited success.[21]

Unfortunately, U.S. officials soon came to the realization that their oversight abilities were limited. Once the aid was given to the Afghan government, U.S. personnel lost all legal ownership of the aid. Financial aid was deposited into the treasury of the Afghan government, and physical materials and supplies were distributed by various elements of the Afghan government. After the aid was given, the United States had no authority over how it was used or who in the GIRoA could claim it.[22] Despite the good intentions that motivated the United States to provide aid, there was little that U.S. personnel could do to guarantee the aid reached the people of Afghanistan after it was given to the GIRoA.

Despite these limitations, U.S. officials did work to encourage integrity and proper use of aid coming from the United States. Officials from the FBI, DEA, and U.S. Treasury developed a Threat Finance Cell in Afghanistan to trace money going to the Taliban. U.S. and ISAF personnel created an “Anti-Corruption Task Force” in 2009, which studied high-level government corruption, made policy recommendations, and identified GIRoA leadership who were engaged in corrupt practices. They also advised Afghan special investigators on rule of law, arrests, and legal issues.[23]

U.S. and ISAF officials also worked to incentivize integrity and rule of law, such as with the Performance-Based Governors’ Fund, which offered incentives to regional leaders who chose not to cooperate with the Taliban and opium traffickers, nor misuse international funds.[24] Furthermore, U.S. Army General David Petraeus, who took command of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in 2010, paid special attention to combatting corruption in the contracting sector.[25] All of these efforts limited the effects of corruption in the GIRoA, thus contributing to U.S. efforts and degrading Taliban influence in the country.

An important anti-corruption development in 2008 was the creation of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a special task group created to – according to their website – “provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities,” much of which entails monitoring projects for fraud, waste, and mismanagement. SIGAR used audits, investigations, and special project teams to investigate various contractor projects and reconstruction funds managed by U.S. organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Department of State (DOS), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR has regularly made and continues to make recommendations to Congress, and more recently to the government of Afghanistan, concerning anti-corruption efforts. This has helped coordinate U.S. and allied anti-corruption efforts throughout the nation.

SIGAR continues to issue quarterly reports to Congress, DOD, DOS, and other agencies to convey the findings of its audits and investigations. These reports often identify areas where money or resources were lost or wasted and include recommendations on how to reduce fraud and waste of taxpayer money on projects in Afghanistan. SIGAR also develops investigative reports for audits and special projects, such as in cases of fraud or misused resources. For example, in late 2012, SIGAR submitted an investigative report to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concerning the results of an investigation entitled “$201 Million in DoD Fuel Purchases Still Unaccounted for Because Records Were Shredded.”[26] SIGAR recently released its 37th quarterly report, as well as a second special report entitled, “Lessons from the U.S. Experiences in Afghanistan.”

SIGAR audits and investigations have helped uncover and prevent waste and fraud and identify GIRoA officials with financial relations with the Taliban and individuals using U.S. aid to enrich themselves. These efforts have reduced government corruption and resource waste in Afghanistan, which deprives Taliban forces of a source of income and improves public opinion of the United States. In addition to U.S. efforts, the Afghan government also enacted some reforms, primarily in the government and health sectors. GIRoA attempted policies such as increased government salaries to de-incentivize bribery (to little effect), performance-based pay, increased oversight of nongovernment organizations, and technical training, all with varying levels of success.[27]

There has also been a push to improve coordination between different anti-corruption efforts, and to empower locals to combat corruption. In 2010, ISAF personnel established the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force (CJIATF) Shafafiyat, an organization developed to coordinate anti-corruption efforts between various groups within ISAF. These groups included: Task Force 2010, which focused on contracting and counter-insurgency; Task Force Spotlight, whose focus was private security companies operating in Afghanistan; and CJIATF-Nexus, which was created to study criminal networks and drug trafficking. CJIATF-Shafafiyat was created to oversee and help coordinate the efforts of these organizations (including intelligence sharing) and develop ISAF’s understanding of corruption and how it impacted the overall U.S. nation-building mission.  There was also a personal element to CJIATF-Shafafiyat’s work, which involves working with and empowering locals and encouraging transparency, which, in turn, further weakened Taliban influence by challenging the Taliban rhetoric that the United States was allowing corruption in the GIRoA.[28]

By combatting government corruption and addressing Afghan citizens’ perceptions of corruption, the United States developed and improved the legitimacy of the GIRoA. Government legitimacy is a crucial aspect of counter-insurgency because as public perceptions of the government improve and citizens’ faith in government institutions increases, citizens are more likely to cooperate with the government, participate in civil society, and rely on the state for protection, law enforcement, legal redress, etc. As a growing percentage of the population looks to the government for their needs, they rely less on insurgent groups to provide and protect, denying insurgents a means of control over the populace and communities from which to recruit new members.

Anti-corruption efforts were not a high priority for U.S. and ISAF personnel when they first entered Afghanistan, but anti-corruption has since grown in importance as policy makers and military leaders recognized its impact on how the Afghan people viewed both the GIRoA and the United States. More resources and personnel have been dedicated to anti-corruption work such as SIGAR and CJIATF, which not only has had a cumulative effect of reducing fraud, waste, and theft by government officials, but has also challenged the perception that the Taliban is the party of law and order. Challenging this perception degrades the Taliban’s ability to operate openly and recruit Afghan citizens who view the GIRoA as illegitimate. These anti-corruption efforts have contributed to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and made the nation more stable as a result.

Negative U.S. Impact

Unfortunately, there have also been a number of missteps on the part of the United States and ISAF in its efforts to destroy the Taliban and build Afghanistan into a stable democracy. As mentioned in earlier sections, the United States partnered with a number of individuals and organizations, like the Northern Alliance, who, while often helpful on the battlefield, also pursued their own goals. As stated above, seeing warlords like the Mujahidin return to power, prosper, gain political influence, and become incorporated into the GIRoA system – seemingly with the blessing of the United States – caused many Afghans to join, support, or tolerate the Taliban. As the former police officer argued above, the United States was seen as the financial backer of the GIRoA, and any action undertaken by the GIRoA was perceived to hold U.S. approval. Therefore, when the GIRoA extorted citizens or otherwise acted corruptly, Afghans often blamed the United States.[29] This made some Afghan citizens more sympathetic to the Taliban and less likely to help the United States.

Regrettably, the United States for many years seemed unaware or uninterested in how these “semiofficial warlords” were perceived by the Afghan population. A New York Times investigation detailed how the United States had partnered with a former police commander in Tirin Kot and paid him millions of dollars for intelligence and private security work, despite reports that he was heavily involved in drug trafficking and the Taliban insurgency.[30] This relates to both warlords and contracting corruption. This police commander in Tirin Kot was one of many warlords who secured security contracts with U.S. or ISAF forces, despite reports that these warlords were often engaged in bribery, extortion, drug trafficking, and/or covertly supporting the Taliban.[31] The security force in a region, compromised of warlords, militia leaders, and police chiefs, would charge U.S. and ISAF forces large sums of money for safe passage of goods and supplies through their territory, and would become very wealthy doing so. This extortion, also known as gaming the state, seemed to many U.S. officials an inescapable reality.[32] Often, U.S. and NATO forces were aware that the regional security providers they paid for protection were often involved with the Taliban and drug trafficking but saw no alternative and continued to pay for the protection upon which they were dependent.[33]

There are many reports that these security providers assured safe passage via payments to the Taliban in the region. Not only would this result in U.S. money indirectly financing the Taliban, but it would also give these private security contractors a strong incentive to prolong the conflict to maintain profits. Also concerning, many of these private security leaders were reported to be involved with corruption, bribery, insurgency financing, and other criminal activity.[34]

Another facet of corruption in the contracting industry that the United States was slow to counter was the issue of sub-contracting. Sub-contracting is a practice in which a contract for a project (a school, a road, etc.) would be sold and re-sold, always to the lowest bidder, and money would often be skimmed off the project every time. The United States would award a contract (with a sizeable amount of money) to a company, which would then subcontract the project to a smaller company, while keeping some of the money from the United States, either by channeling it overseas or in some cases, using it in political initiatives. That subcontractor would then sell the contract to a sub-subcontractor, while again pocketing some of the money.[35] This system not only cost the U.S. massive amounts of money, but also led to construction projects with little-to-no oversight, which wasted aid money. This often resulted in projects that could not be used, which degraded the U.S. military’s ability to protect its troops in dangerous regions and project power throughout the country. The lack of oversight over these construction projects hampered the war effort.

For example, a road construction project financed by the USAID in 2011 was issued to a large U.S. company, which was then subcontracted to a South African private military corporation. This corporation then sold the contract “to an Afghan who did not even have a registered firm and simply went by the name Arafat,” who U.S. officials believe channeled money to the Taliban.[36] Often, when one of these projects was completed, it was usually done with little to no oversight from U.S. government or military personnel, who would often only see a project when contractors reported it complete. This lack of oversight on multimillion-dollar contracts led to colossal waste. For example, a dining hall was built without a kitchen, and a five-building compound was accidently built outside its protective base walls.[37]

Lack of oversight on these projects led to the waste of millions of dollars. Afghan citizens saw this entire system, with large amounts of waste and failed or unusable projects, and public opinion of the United States suffered as a result. The United States was not seen as successful, careful, dynamic, or producing high-quality work, but sloppy and mistake prone. This made many Afghan citizens less likely to rely on or trust U.S. forces, or put themselves at risk to help the U.S. mission, because they were not convinced the United States could protect them from the Taliban.


Corruption is obviously not the only problem the United States has faced in Afghanistan, but one of many. There have been many different facets to this conflict. However, corruption and bribery have been perennial issues in Afghanistan, issues that the United States and its allies were painfully slow to acknowledge and address. As illustrated in the last section, U.S. and ISAF personnel sometimes worked with groups or pursued policies that were counterproductive to their goals in Afghanistan. These inadvertent force multipliers had the effect of bolstering the Taliban, funding corrupt practices in Afghan politics, disenfranchising the populace, and prolonging the conflict.[38] These were painful mistakes, but if these lessons from Afghanistan can be taken to heart and studied, perhaps the next time the United States engages in nation-building, it can avoid mistakes like this that bolster U.S. adversaries and put more U.S. personnel in danger.

The U.S. military should study the Afghanistan conflict and the negative impacts that an over-reliance on contracting has had on U.S. efforts. U.S. governmental departments and agencies involved in foreign aid should carefully study how aid money given with benevolent intentions by the United States was acquired by actors in the Afghanistan conflict for personal enrichment, and not used for nation-building efforts. Learning from the mistakes made in Afghanistan will enable the United States to avoid making the same mistakes in future nation-building efforts.

The anti-corruption gains made in Afghanistan, such as SIGAR and CJIATF-Shafafiyat, should be studied as well, so their methods and tools are not forgotten, and the successes of these organizations are not lost but built upon and replicated in other nations. Special attention should be paid to the successes of anti-corruption efforts as they pertain to drug trafficking, to determine if the means and tools used in Afghanistan could be instructive in other counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics missions, e.g., Mexico or Bolivia.

This analysis illustrates how unreliable allies and misguided policies can inadvertently prolong conflict, put troops and personnel in more danger, and cost the United States in not only resources but also lives. The longer the conflict in Afghanistan endures, the more evident this truth will become.

Samuel Read has completed his first year at The Institute of World Politics where he is currently pursuing a MA in Statecraft and National Security Affairs. Before studying at IWP, he earned a BA in History and Political Science in Boise, Idaho, during which time he discovered an interest in national security during a summer internship with the Department of Defense. His research interests include corruption, illicit finance, trafficking, and counterterrorism.

[1] Crumpton, Henry A. Art of intelligence: lessons from a life in the CIAs Clandestine Service. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

[2] Saeed, Huma and Stephan Parmentier. “When Rabbits are in Charge of Carrots: Land Grabbing, Transitional Justice and Economic-State Crime in Afghanistan”. State Crime Journal. 6, no. 1. (2017).

[3] Holdren, Richard et al. “Dealing with Corruption: Hard Lessons Learned in Afghanistan”. Joint Force Quarterly.75, no. 4. (2014).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.

[6] Allen, T.S. “Addressing an Ignored Imperative: Rural Corruption in Afghanistan.” Small Wars Journal. 9, no. 2. (2013).

[7] Dexter Filkens. “With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire.” The New York Times, June 2010.

[8] U.S. Congress. House. 2010. “Warlord, Inc. Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan.” 111th Cong. 3-4, 24.

[9] Saeed, Huma and Stephan Parmentier. “When Rabbits are in Charge of Carrots: Land Grabbing, Transitional Justice and Economic-State Crime in Afghanistan.” State Crime Journal. 6, no. 1. (2017).

[10] Ibid

[11] Murtazashvili, Jennifer. “Gaming the state: consequences of contracting out state building in Afghanistan.” Central Asian Survey.34, no. 1. (2015).

[12] “Afghanistan: How Afghans Would Negotiate Their Own Peace.” Gallup News.

[13] Berman, Eli, et al. “Election Fairness and Government Legitimacy in Afghanistan.” National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper 19949. (2014).

[14] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Farrell, Theo and Antonio Giustozzi. “The Taliban at War: Inside the Helmand insurgency, 2004-2012”. International Affairs. 89, no. 4. (2013).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Saeed, Huma and Stephan Parmentier. “When Rabbits are in Charge of Carrots: Land Grabbing, Transitional Justice and Economic-State Crime in Afghanistan”. State Crime Journal. 6, no. 1. (2017).

[20] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.

[21] Holdren, Richard et al. “Dealing with Corruption: Hard Lessons Learned in Afghanistan”. Joint Force Quarterly.75, no. 4. (2014).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.

[24] Marquette, Heather. “Donors, State Building and Corruption: Lessons from Afghanistan and the implications for aid policy.” Third World Quarterly. 32, no. 10. (2011).

[25] Allen, T.S. “Addressing an Ignored Imperative: Rural Corruption in Afghanistan.” Small Wars Journal. 9, no. 2. (2013).

[26] “Afghan National Army: $201 Million in DOD Fuel Purchases Still Unaccounted for Because Records Were Shredded.” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. December 2012.

[27] Colaco, Nita. “Crooked Progress: Afghanistan Tackles Corruption.” Harvard International Review. 2008.

[28] Allen, T.S. “Addressing an Ignored Imperative: Rural Corruption in Afghanistan.” Small Wars Journal. 9, no. 2. (2013).

[29] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.

[30] Dexter Filkens. “With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire.” The New York Times, June 2010. & U.S. Congress. House. 2010. “Warlord, Inc. Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan.” 111th Cong. 3-4, 24.

[31] U.S. Congress. House. 2010. “Warlord, Inc. Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan.” 111th Cong. 3-4, 24.

[32] Murtazashvili, Jennifer. “Gaming the state: consequences of contracting out state building in Afghanistan.” Central Asian Survey.34, no. 1. (2015).

[33] U.S. Congress. House. 2010. “Warlord, Inc. Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan.” 111th Cong. 3-4, 24.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Murtazashvili, Jennifer. “Gaming the state: consequences of contracting out state building in Afghanistan.” Central Asian Survey.34, no. 1. (2015).

[36] Ibid.

[37] Brinkley, Joel. “Money Pit: The Monstrous Failure of US Aid to Afghanistan.” World Affairs. January/February 2013.

[38] Chayes, Sarah. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2015.