NEW DELHI: The latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR), presented just before a new administration and Congress takes over in the United States, has outlined areas of “high risk” that threaten reconstruction of the troubled country. This list was formulated for “the new Administration and the 115th Congress to consider when crafting policies.”

The report states that in Afghanistan, “the price has been high.” Since 2001, 2,247 U.S. military personnel have died and more than 20,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. has spent more on Afghanistan’s reconstruction than it did on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Reconstructing Afghanistan has been the largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in US history.

It notes that a series of reconstruction challenges remain. The Afghan security forces are not yet capable of providing security for the whole country, the report states. The Afghan government cannot sustain many of the investments that U.S. has made. Despite a U.S. investment of $8.5 billion in counternarcotics, Afghan opium production is at an all-time high.

The report notes that “after 15 years, the task is incomplete.” Despite a $70 billion U.S. investment in the Afghan security forces, only 63% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence. Corruption has the eroded legitimacy of the Afghan government, limiting its effectiveness and bolstering support for the opposing insurgency. After 15 years, Afghanistan still cannot support itself financially or functionally. Long-term financial assistance is required if the country is to survive.

In 2014, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) developed a High-Risk List to call attention to program areas and elements of the U.S.-funded reconstruction effort in Afghanistan that are especially vulnerable to significant waste, fraud, and abuse. Eight high risk areas have been presented, namely, Afghan security forces capacity and capability, corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counternarcotics, contract management, oversight, planning and strategy.

“With a new U.S. President and Cabinet assuming office, it is an appropriate time to consider U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. The choices are not easy, the outcomes are not guaranteed, and the stakes are high,” SIGAR notes.

“Afghanistan needs a stable security environment to prevent it from again becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda or other terrorists. More than half of all U.S. reconstruction dollars since 2002 have gone toward building, equipping, training, and sustaining the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). However, the ANDSF has not yet been capable of securing all of Afghanistan and has lost territory to the insurgency. As of August 28, 2016, USFOR-A reported that only 63.4% of the country’s districts were under Afghan government control or influence, a reduction from the 72% percent as of November 27, 2015. Capability gaps in key areas such as intelligence, aviation, and logistics are improving, but still hinder effectiveness,” the report states.

Referring to corruption, it notes, “Corruption continues to be one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction effort. Corruption has eroded state legitimacy, weakening the government’s ability to enlist popular support against the insurgency, discouraging foreign investment and economic growth, as well as seriously diminishing Afghan military capability.”

“Much of the more than $115 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs is at risk of being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment—financially or functionally—without massive, continued donor support. Donors were expected to finance approximately 69% of Afghanistan’s $6.5 billion fiscal year (FY) 1395 national budget (December 22, 2015–December 21, 2016), mostly through grants. At 2016 conferences in Warsaw and Brussels, the United States and other donors pledged to maintain assistance to Afghanistan at or near current levels through 2020,” it states in reference to issues of sustainability.

“On-budget assistance includes direct assistance (also referred to as bilateral, government-to-government assistance) and assistance that travels through multi-donor trust funds before reaching the Afghan government. On-budget assistance is intended to reduce costs, increase Afghan government ownership, and build the Afghan government's institutional capacity for managing its own budget. However, on-budget assistance, whether delivered directly or through multilateral trust funds, leads to reduced U.S. control and visibility over these funds. Given the evidence that the Afghan government still cannot manage and protect these funds and may not use them appropriately, the Department of Defense is planning to reduce some of its on-budget assistance,” the report states.

Opium production remains a huge challenge. “The cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs puts the entire U.S. investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk. Although the United States has committed more than $8.5 billion to counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, the country still leads the world in opium production, and Afghan farmers are growing more opium than ever. The Afghan insurgency receives significant funding from participating in and taxing the illicit narcotics trade, raising the question of whether the Afghan government can ever prevail without tackling the narcotics problem,” the report notes.

Contracting remains a high risk, and the report states that “The scope of contracting in support of U.S. objectives in Afghanistan is enormous, but contracting represents a high risk to the success of Afghanistan reconstruction. The usual difficulties of contract management are magnified and aggravated by Afghanistan’s remoteness, active insurgency, widespread corruption, limited ministerial capability, difficulties in collecting and verifying data, and other issues.”

“The ability of trained professionals to conduct site visits is a critical part of effective reconstruction oversight. Unfortunately, accessing reconstruction project sites and programs in Afghanistan has grown increasingly difficult with the U.S. and Coalition military drawdown. Oversight has also been weakened by instances of poor documentation, failure to monitor contract compliance and work quality, and inattention to holding contractors and grantees accountable for unsatisfactory performance,” it says on the issue of oversight.

“A lack of emphasis on planning and developing related strategies means the U.S. military and civilian agencies are at risk of working at cross purposes, spending money on nonessential endeavors, or failing to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan,” the report concludes.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has expressed disagreement over the report. “These calculations are not constant,” Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesperson for the Afghan defense ministry, told Voice Of America’s Afghan service. “Now we have recaptured many areas from the enemy.” The government said it controls nearly two-thirds of the country's 407 districts. Afghan officials said the Taliban controls 33 districts, less than 10 percent of the national total, and a recent U.S. military assessment lists 116 districts -- more than one-quarter of the country -- as "contested" areas.

Other estimates indicate that the Taliban may control as much as one-third of Afghan territory, with the year 2016 seeing some of the group’s biggest gains yet as they push into Kunduz and Helmand province.