In ‘Little America,’ Assessing the U.S. Presence in Afghanistan

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to make Afghanistan a top priority. A month after his inauguration, the new president agreed to the military’s request for a troop surge, adding 17,000 to the 36,000 American forces already there. Ten months later, the president beefed up the U.S. presence further, adding more military forces and civilian aid to the Afghan government.

But how effective were those efforts, which cost billions of dollars every month? A new book, “Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan,” delves into all of this. Its author is Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who recently spoke with Ray Suarez.

Did U.S. Dollars Fuel Corruption in Afghanistan?

One of the key metrics for success in Afghanistan was the “burn rate” — how much money the U.S. Agency for International Development spent — rather than looking at what had been accomplished, or examining the effects of money being poured into the country, explained Chandrasekaran.

“When USAID reached a figure of $300 million a month, there was a great celebration at their offices in Kabul” for all that was achieved, Chandrasekaran said.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact in many cases the more we [the USA] spent, the less we accomplished. Or what we accomplished ran counter to what we wanted to do. As we put more money in, we fueled corruption, we fueled inefficiencies, we fueled governmental theft and laziness. We fueled contractors skimming proceeds and layers of subcontracting.”

Pig Roasts and Boozy Parties at U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan

According to Chandrasekaran, U.S. officials kept repeating the same diplomatic mistakes in Afghanistan. “They had a pig roast on the embassy compound — this in a Muslim country that finds the consumption of pork deeply offensive.”

American diplomats and aid workers had an “alcohol-sodden Mardi Gras party where people got into fist fights, and literally were urinating on the walls of the embassy,” Chandrasekaran told Suarez. “Every year you get a whole new crop of these diplomats and aid workers who show up. And in many cases, show up fresh and not having learnt the lessons” from the past.

Could the U.S. Have Done More with Less in Afghanistan?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan,” talked to PBS NewsHour’s Ray Suarez on Tuesday’s broadcast about how Afghanistan will continue to be a violent and chaotic place after U.S. troops leave. Justin Scuiletti edited the video excerpts.