The United States' costly nation-building projects in Afghanistan can claim only limited success and the troubled nation risks sinking into deeper crisis after a U.S. troop withdrawal, according to a congressional report Wednesday, issued ahead of critical White House decisions on the scope of future U.S. involvement.
The two-year investigation found that despite the roughly $18.8 billion spent in foreign aid to Afghanistan over the past decade, more than any other country, the United States should "have no illusions" about its programs aimed at stabilization.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report details the use of aid dollars in areas of Afghanistan cleared of the Taliban and urges the administration to reconsider how the money is being spent.
It comes as debate rages over the extent of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama considers the size of an initial U.S. troop drawdown and how best to transition military responsibilities into civilian hands.
"The administration is pursuing an assistance strategy based on counterinsurgency theories that deserve careful, ongoing scrutiny to see if they yield intended results," the report said.
"Foreign aid, when misspent, can fuel corruption, distort labor and goods markets, undermine the host government's ability to exert control over resources, and contribute to insecurity," it said.
A whopping 97 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product is related to international military and donor community spending, the report said, citing the World Bank.
"Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless the proper planning begins now," the report said.
"The administration is understandably anxious for immediate results to demonstrate to Afghans and Americans alike that we are making progress," it said. "However, insecurity, abject poverty, weak indigenous capacity, and widespread corruption create challenges for spending money. High staff turnover, pressure from the military, imbalances between military and civilian resources, unpredictable funding levels from Congress, and changing political timelines have further complicated efforts."
Among the problems cited by the senators was the use of U.S. contractors.
It said the United States relies heavily on such contractors but noted a lack of robust oversight. Much of U.S. aid goes not to the Afghan government but into the hands of international companies.
"This practice can weaken the ability of the Afghan state to execute its budget, lead to redundant and unsustainable donor projects, and fuel corruption," the report said.
The Foreign Relations Committee issued its sobering assessment on the same day it is expected to grill Ryan Crocker, nominated by Obama to serve as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
Crocker, the former ambassador to Iraq, is sure to face tough questions about the upcoming drawdown and the U.S. role in Afghanistan.