U.S. senators have warned the Obama administration that failure to address problems with corruption in Afghanistan could lead to a pullback in the embattled country's $5 billion in yearly aid.
"I don't know what the political will here in the United States will be to continue to support the Afghans in light of what is going on there," said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Menendez said he supported the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in the past, but he could "have a totally different view" if the government in Kabul does not move more forcefully against corruption.
His comments came after a U.S. inspector-general report on September 14 strongly criticized Washington for pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan with so little oversight that it fueled a culture of "rampant corruption" and undermined the U.S. mission.
The United States gives Afghanistan about $5 billion per year, including about $4 billion in military aid and another $1 billion in civilian assistance, administration officials said. Beyond that, it also spends many billions more supporting U.S. troops in the country.
The inspector-general found that in fiscal year 2012, the United States spent $19 billion on services for troops in Afghanistan such as transportation, base construction, and translation -- nearly as much as Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product of $20.5 billion that year.
It said the lure of such huge sums of money in impoverished Afghanistan had attracted "entrenched criminal patronage networks" that after 15 years of U.S. intervention have become very difficult to root out.
The report quotes former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker as saying: "The ultimate failure of our efforts...wasn't an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption."
Beyond the problem with corruption, Senator Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, expressed concern that public support for spending in Afghanistan is eroding because the American people can see little evidence that it is bearing fruit.
Richard Olson, the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, agreed that corruption can undermine governance. But he called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "a committed partner" in fighting corruption.
Ghani, Olson said, had taken steps including addressing the Kabul Bank scandal, canceling a fuel contract, and setting up a monitoring committee with experts on anticorruption.
"It is a dramatically different situation from what it was prior to 2014," Olson told the committee.
USAID administrator for Afghanistan Donald Sampler told the committee that "ungoverned spaces are the worst" security threats for the United States around the world.
"So supporting the government of Afghanistan and supporting their ability to govern their own space and doing that proactively to prevent insurgencies rather than having to counter them is in my opinion a good investment."