Rebuilding Afghanistan has a high human cost, US agency says

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In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 photo, an excavator works on road construction project funded by the government, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Rebuilding war-ravaged Afghanistan has cost thousands of lives according to a new report released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog that monitors the billions of U.S. dollars spent reconstructing Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL – Rebuilding Afghanistan has cost hundreds of lives, according to a new report released Tuesday by a U.S. government watchdog that monitors the billions of dollars Washington spends in the war-ravaged country.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, says his report is the first to look at the human cost of rebuilding Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban. The casualties it chronicled were the result of Taliban and other militant attacks on reconstruction projects since 2002. Such projects are often seen as easy targets. The SIGAR report did not include accidental or other deaths associated with reconstruction projects.

The findings come amid renewed U.S.-led peace talks with the Taliban aimed at opening the way for withdrawing American troops.

U.S. Congress created the office of SIGAR to ferret out waste and corruption in the billions of dollars America spends in Afghanistan. The watchdog's reports had previously focused almost exclusively on the financial costs of rebuilding the war-torn country.

“'For years, SIGAR has spent considerable effort to track the financial costs of reconstruction and stabilization activities in Afghanistan,” said Sopko in a preamble to the report. “However, little effort has been made up to now to track the human costs — the number of people killed, wounded, or kidnapped — to accomplish these activities."

The report found that 2,214 people have been killed, most of them Afghans, in largely U.S.-led projects to rebuild the country. That deaths included 284 Americans, both civilian and military. Another 2,291 people were wounded in projects from road construction, to building schools and health clinics around Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's 18-year war has been deadly for civilians. The United Nations calculates that between 2009, when it first began documenting civilian casualties, and October 2019, a total of 34,677 Afghan civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks and caught in the crossfire in fighting between militants and Afghan security forces and their U.S.-led coalition allies.

The report pointed out that the focus on financial waste had until now left policymakers with “an incomplete picture of the true cost" of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. It said this was the first U.S. government probe to focus on the human toll of reconstruction programs.