Recall the stories of the lone Japanese soldier abandoned on a deserted island in the Pacific after World War II, who wasn’t told the war was over? Turns out the U.S. has its own “lone soldier” from the war in Afghanistan. Except this isn’t one soldier, and it is costing tens of millions of dollars.
On June 22, the House Armed Services Committee advanced the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act to the full House. In that bill is a provision to establish a special inspector general to oversee aid for Ukraine.
With billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars going to support the Ukrainian war effort, this is probably needed to assure the American public of accountability of the aid flowing to Ukraine.
But while the House proposes to stand up a new special inspector general, the public might not be aware that the United States still has a special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, or SIGAR. And unlike in Ukraine, there is no U.S. reconstruction or military aid in Afghanistan, as the U.S. military left almost two years ago.
Which raises the question, why does SIGAR still exist, operating at a cost of tens of millions of dollars per year, even though Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban and the United States has long since withdrawn?
Special inspectors general are meant for extraordinary and temporary situations; in the entire U.S. government, there are only three. With the Taliban in charge and no U.S. personnel in the country, SIGAR should be disestablished.
When SIGAR was first authorized by the 2008 NDAA, its mission was to “provide independent and objective oversight” over Afghanistan reconstruction efforts, to “promote efficacy,” and to “prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.”
During the Afghan reconstruction period, SIGAR successfully kept U.S. funds accountable. According to its own accounting, SIGAR helped to save nearly $4 billion. But the United States is not engaged in any Afghan reconstruction projects, and SIGAR does not even have offices or people in Afghanistan anymore.
Some may argue that SIGAR is necessary to maintain continued U.S. humanitarian aid to Afghanistan accountable. But the responsibility for keeping this aid accountable should fall upon its distributors, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The U.S. government gives aid to numerous other foreign nations, none of which has a special inspector general in the Pentagon.
Disestablishing a special inspector general at the end of U.S. deployment is not without precedent either. After the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S. government subsequently dissolved the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, known as SIGIR.
The United States should do the same with SIGAR.
Today the United States is dealing with much more pertinent national security threats, such as China and Russia. Even though the amount of money spent on SIGAR is not enormous, Congress should focus any such resources appropriated for the Department of Defense on efforts to increase military readiness.
If, as Congress proposes, the U.S. government will have a new special inspector general office for Ukraine, then it should simultaneously close the one for Afghanistan.
Eliminating SIGAR makes financial sense as well. SIGAR’s fiscal 2024 budget of $26.8 million is still $6.8 million more than the proposed cost for the special inspector general for Ukraine. The U.S. government can both save money and further our interests in Ukraine by replacing SIGAR.
While SIGAR played an instrumental role during the war in Afghanistan, it is a remnant of the past and it is well past time to dissolve it. America has new and emerging security challenges, and these must be our focus going forward—not Afghanistan.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times