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U.S. Marines during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

U.S. Marines during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. (Victor Mancill/U.S. Marine Corps)

(Tribune News Service) — Though U.S. military forces left Afghanistan nearly a year ago, the United States has still spent nearly $800 million there since then, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (also known as “SIGAR”) said in an interview this week.

“I think it’s close to $800 million that we’ve spent in Afghanistan since the collapse of the government last August,” said SIGAR John Sopko, an Ohio native who started his career in Dayton. “Because we still have an interest there, and there are still a lot of Afghans our government wants to help.”

“I guess people don’t realize that,” he added. “And I think people should realize that. We still are giving money to the Afghan people. We are trying not to, as much as possible, give money to the Taliban.”

That’s one of SIGAR’s oversight roles — to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars aren’t directed to the Taliban, the group that quickly took control of Afghanistan as the U.S. and its allies hastily withdrew by then end of August last year.

“That’s one of the issues we have right now with state aid,” Sopko told the Dayton Daily News.

The United States this week killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone missile while he stood on a balcony at his Kabul home near the former U.S. embassy, according to U.S. officials.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had sheltered the al-Qaida leader “after repeated assurances” that they would not.

Sopko said much of the U.S. money that has been spent in the past year has been an effort to ease hunger and address health care needs in Afghanistan.

And there yet remains $1.8 billion in “authorized and appropriated money” that has still not been spent, although Sopko assumes much of that will eventually be rescinded.

Sopko will oversee what is spent of that amount. Once his office does that and issues final reports, then “we will go out of existence,” he said.

The SIGAR office also released a report last year detailing how the U.S. Air Force spent $549 million on aircraft for the Afghan Air Force, most of which were junked a few years later at a scrap value of $40,257 — a project that involved officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The Air Force and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base I think has been very cooperative in the past,” he said this week. “We’ve had only great dealings with them. ( Air Force) Materiel Command (based at Wright-Patterson) was very supportive in the past.”

Sopko was sworn in as SIGAR in July 2012, having been appointed to the post by President Obama.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner asked President Joe Biden to cooperate with Sopko’s examination of taxpayer funded operations in Afghanistan.

The letter was prompted by what Turner called a failure by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development ( USAID) to provide “any meaningful documentation related to Afghanistan“ in nearly a year.

“I am concerned that further delays will significantly obstruct SIGAR’s necessary oversight work,” Turner wrote. “I urge you to make all efforts to ensure that the historic cooperation between SIGAR and the Department of State and USAID recommence.”

Sopko this week said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress and administration agencies will support his work.

(c)2022 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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