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tv   Washington Journal John Sopko  CSPAN  February 22, 2021 12:22am-1:08am EST

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couple of tech related hearings. on thursday, a house judiciary subcommittee looks at competition for the digital economy, featuring economist and federal trade commission lawyers. the house commerce committee hears from the ceos of facebook, twitter, and google as it looks at this information on online platforms. that is scheduled for march 25. host: our next guest serves as the special inspector general for afghanistan reconstruction. he is general john sopko. thank you for joining us. guest: thank you. host: can you remind our viewers in job, what specific role it has? guest: i am the special inspector general for afghanistan reconstruction. it is a long term. just call it the sigar without the c.
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my job is to oversee all of their reconstruction money -- and the reconstruction money that is being spent currently in afghanistan. i have auditors, investigators, engineers, analysts, and i have been doing it for about 10 years. we are at 70 ig's for each of the agencies in the federal government. the difference between us and them as we are temporary and we go out of existence at a certain time when the amount of money falls below 250 million. we can look at the whole of government. most ig's can. they can only look at their agency. when congress created us, they gave us the opportunity to look at any money spent by any u.s. agency in afghanistan for
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reconstruction. host: how much money has been appropriated by the u.s. government for reconstruction efforts and how much has been spent? guest: i think we are over 143.2 billion dollars for reconstruction. i have to check that. we have a billion dollars in the pipeline and a couple of billion of new money that had not been allocated yet. host: from your report on the 30th of this year, 143 billion and you said appropriated for -- 14 billion for agency operations and 4 billion for aid or humanitarian aid. what would you say to viewers as
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far as for the money that has been spent, what are they getting from it and where do you find concerns, especially from your investigative work? guest: they are getting mixed results. we have highlighted problems for 10 years. i have been there almost 10 years. they have gotten some successes. there has been an improvement in the afghan military. there has been improvement in the quality of life, the health, and the education of the afghan people. a lot money has been -- we see that and we are dealing also -- we are dealing with a country that is at war, it has been at war for 20-30 years. it is difficult to do reconstruction in a country like that. host: to come to the report, you said this about the current condition of the security in the country, you said this, "almost exactly a year ago with the united states -- withdrawal
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agreement with the taliban, peace talks with the taliban have yielded few substantial results. it goes on to say that the taliban have -- expand on that, the role of the taliban and what it means not only for security, but reconstruction efforts in that country guest: the taliban are the main insurgency group and have been. you have to remember why we went to afghanistan. it was because of the attack on the u.s. we went in there to take the terrorists out, to fight them. and kick them out of that country and to help create a stable government that could rule that unruly country for the
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future and would keep the terrorists out. that is what we have been fighting there. we lost 2000, over 2300 americans, american servicemen and women. 20,000 injured. we spend all of that money to try to keep them out. now, the taliban met with an negotiated with our government for a withdrawal agreement and as part of that agreement, they would stick out with the afghan government and negotiate a peace treaty. that is going to be very difficult. my agency is not part of the peace negotiations, nor do i have jurisdiction over that. i look at reconstruction, not peace. if there was peace, it would have a dramatic impact not only on afghans, but on the success
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of reconstruction. the problem is, it has been stiff. many experts, many people -- i spoke with general allen at the brookings institute about a report released. -- a report we released. our concern that they will wait us out as part of that withdrawal agreement that the prior administration signed was we would pull all of our troops out by may. that would have an impact on that nato troops in their and other troops who come to our senses -- who have come to our assistance there. people are concerned that the taliban are just waiting. there is an old statement that the afghans have and that is that you have all the watches,
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we have all the time. that is what people are afraid of. and all the afghans that i have met and talked to are afraid of that. that is where we are. it negotiations have been stalemated, violence is up, particularly targeted violence, targeted attacks, killings, by the taliban and other insurgency groups that are targeting senior officials in the afghan government. newspaper men, journalists, judges, civil society officials, the number of what they called sticky bombs, those are bombs that are attached to automobiles, have gone up tremendously in kabul, which is the major city. that is where we stand. the biden administration now has inherited this and they are reviewing the policies and how to go forward in afghanistan.
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host: go ahead. our guest is with us until 9:15. if you want to ask questions about his work, looking at reconstruction efforts in afghanistan. a one for republicans. 004 democrats. 024 independents. -- (202) 748-8001 for republicans. 00 -- (202) 748-8000 four democrats. (202) 748-8003 for independents. guest: in three months, there would be no u.s. troops. that is how prior administration's agreed. it was condition based. i do not know what that means and we do not know what it
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means. many people say in their condition is that you stop the shooting and the killing of the afghans. the one good thing about this is that no american have died in the last year in afghanistan. to that extent, that was part of the withdrawal agreement to say that we would not attack -- they would not attack u.s. or coalition troops. if there is a withdrawal of the troops, there is a lot a concern, and we have expressed that in some of our reports, at the afghan government, particularly afghan military, which is doing 99% of the fighting right now, will be hard-pressed. and because we are still there, we still have a tremendous ability to help defend the afghan government and troops and
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we noted in our quarterly report, the number of aerosols by our military has increased this last quarter. that is in support of the afghan military police. at that air support is gone, the afghans do not have the capability really to defend themselves in that area or at least as well with our forces. there is concern about that. the bigger concern is the funding. the afghan government cannot survive without u.s. and donors's support. they raised about $2.6 billion a year and my understanding, so that i get the numbers right, their annual budget shortfall is about $6 billion-$8 billion.
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that shortfall is paid for by us. if we stop the funding reconstruction money, support money, whatever you want to call it, most experts say the afghan government would collapse. host: our first question come from baltimore, maryland. democrats line. steve, you are on with john sopko, the special inspector general for afghanistan reconstruction. caller: i have seen you in many hearings with the senate over the years with desperate you ever see an end -- it is almost like a jobs program. is this coming to an end or conclusion that will be sufficient when it come to the money that we are spending as taxpayers in afghanistan? guest: sometimes, it is
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interesting that it the cold weather now, i am reminded of groundhog day. sometimes i feel like bill murray. he had seen me on c-span, and it seems like i am repeating myself. what i keep repeating myself about is that there are better ways to do it over there. i do think there is success possible. if people would stop repeating the same mistakes time and time again. that is the definition of insanity, to do the same thing over and over again and soon -- and assume there will be a different result. we have issued hundreds of reports, other ideas, gao issues. we enable recommendations. it does not seem to be their willingness or capability of changing our ways.
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i think there is a possibility of success. it is not going to be just us who will do it. the afghan government has to. -- has to start cleaning up their act. i do not know how many times we issued reports on the problem of corruption. eruption is not just a criminal justice issue. corruption -- corruption is not just a criminal justice issue. eruption is having an impact on the morale of the afghan military. -- corruption is having an impact on the morale of the afghan military. until they do what it is recommended by us and experts, it will be groundhog day again. we can succeed. we have had successes. we should learn from those successes. host: what is the largest u.s. mistake in your mind? guest: biggest mistake was going in there, not knowing the ground -- i will talk about the military side.
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i talked about we went in there with reconstruction with too much money, too fast, and too small of an economy with little or no oversight. we have drowned that money -- are we surprised now 20 years in that the warlords and the ridgebacks are corrupt officials and our traffickers and have a big control over that country. the average afghan is not seem to benefit of that u.s. and european budget. they are easy recruits for the taliban. one of the last things in the last quarter report that was highlighted was held for that country is and how the state of the economy is really cratering.
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that helps and is certain and insurgency. host: raleigh, north carolina. roger, go ahead. caller: good morning, thank you for taking my call. i lived in the middle east for a while in the late 70's. everybody knows that when -- in order to get anything done, you have to pay off. your guest certainly understands that. wouldn't it be more humane in the long-term to stop the money and let whatever happens, let natural things happen there because i do not think anything is going to come out of this, it is going to be not to our benefit or the world. guest: the caller makes a good point. a very good point about bribery and corruption.
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what he experienced or dealt with or is aware of in other countries, you have to magnify in afghanistan. it is so much worse. the amount of corruption in afghanistan really hurts the ability of the country to function and fight this war. that is the difference, a little bit of the difference. we understand that there is corruption throughout the world. there is corruption in the end the united states. -- corruption in the united states. what you are seeing is corruption that does not help the government to function or the society to function well. is it better to walk away? that is a policyholder. let me be clear, so you know who
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i am, i am not a representative of the state department or the national security council or an advisor on policy. i am an inspector general. there are 72 others around the government. we do not do policy. we take the policies from the administration and congress and see how well that policy is being executed. we report back to congress on what we find. if we find people stealing money, we try to get them prosecuted. i do not do policy. that is a good policy question. these are the type of policy questions that congress, that the administration, should be asking and the american people. it is my money being wasted there too. just like to caller's money. josh -- just like the caller's money. we all have an interest in policymaking. that is the important thing.
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i cannot tell you what the policy should be. i can tell you that this is your policy, this is what you are doing that helps it and what hinders it. and this is what happens if you continue. that is what ig's should do and they should not get into the policy realm host: this is someone who served in afghanistan. mcas line. good morning. -- democrats line. caller: for 20 years, i was a veteran. two questions really. as far as -- you have seen it all. what would your letter grade b for the current policy -- letter grade be -- how much of that is
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being given back to america? guest: we have issued 300 or more reports and we have made a thousand recommendations and some of it being good and some of it is bad. i know you're thinking he is dodgy. maybe i am to some extent. i cannot put a grade on it. we set people like you are -- we have to have the evil guys who keep stealing. contractors are doing a bulk of the work in afghanistan and do a heck of a lot of work in ever -- everywhere we have ever fought and every reconstruction. some of them did excellent work.
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some of the programs were excellent. it is hard for me to give a grade. i have got impressed by this by a lot of congressmen over the years when i testified. i think we found -- we did an analysis for congress, about 30% of the money was either wasted and i leave it to the listener whether that is good or bad. you always waste money on a place like afghanistan just by the nature of the place. as for the second part of the question about money coming back to the united states, in terms of kickback, it is not so much kickback, we have a u.s. contract, there is an individual who works over there and they bring the money back legally. there are some who we try to
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catch and we put them in jail for bribery and corruption. most of our contractors are doing a dam good job in afghanistan in horrible working conditions. some of the contracts could have been better written, many should have been better written, but our contractors are doing what they have been asked to do at great risk. great risk to themselves. we issued a number of reports on contractors who have been killed and wounded some time ago and they have suffered too. i do not want to paint this as a bunch of contractors going over there and stealing all of the money. the afghans have done a good job at that too. and third-party nationals.
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host: so when money is turned over from the united states to save the afghanistan government, what is the ability to follow the money once it leaves our hands into theirs? guest: that is a really good question and you hit on a sore point that i at my agency -- my agency has had. at the department issued a contract to an american contractor, that is a direct link between the government and our government who has oversight over that cup -- there something cold on budget assistance where we just cut a check from that u.s. treasury directly to the afghan treasury and they issue this contract themselves and
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they spend it. our concern is the overreliance on on budget assistance, especially in a country like afghanistan where there is a historic record of the inability of the afghans to manage that money and the inherent eruption in the government over there. -- inherent corruption in the government over there. we are concerned about that. our budget assistance helps the government of afghanistan control and manage and learn how to manage money, which is great, it is a good policy. the problem is, we have seen abuse and an inability of our government to understand how the money is being spent. our concern is that as the security situation has
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deteriorated and we naturally have pulled back a of our aid employees and aid contractors and space department employees to manage these contract, these billions of dollars being spent, that we are going to be using on budget assistance. more and more. with less and less oversight. all we can do, this is a policy decision, ig's do not do policy. what we try to tell congress is, if you are going to do that, just be aware the fact that the amount of money being stolen is going to increase. and so you have to be concerned about that. it is up to the policymakers. we can only advise them about that. i think the caller -- it was you. you have brought up a good point.
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host: our guests are available at the website sigar.org. when you submit a report, what reaction do you have? what reaction do you get from congress? guest: let me back up so the audience does not miss her -- ms. understand b. that is our 50th quarterly report. they are required to issue a report every quarter. that tells congress and the american people, this is what happened in reconstruction for the last quarter. we have issued hundreds -- we just issued a lessons learned report prude issued audits. we will have a great audit
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coming out next week. those are things we built in afghanistan and we were asked by congress to issue a report and look at what happened to everything. we issued hundreds of those. i do not want you to be confused about it. it is not that we issued 50 reports over 10 years. we issued hundreds. host: thank you for the clarification. mike in massachusetts. democrats line. caller: good morning. i have a couple of questions. most of the hijackers that flew into the world trade center, washington, and pennsylvania came from saudi arabia, went to school in this country to learn how to fly planes. now, my question is, i think we deserve a good answer on this
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one, what did anyone in afghanistan, including the taliban, have to do with what happened on 9/11 when the bin laden family's roots are in saudi arabia? it is like, what was our main objective forever going to afghanistan? i have a reason i'd like to say, but i'm not going to say right now. host: go ahead and follow-up so we can let the guest respond to it. caller: i also believe we want to get our hands on the opium poppy production over there, just like we got our hands in colombia on cocaine production. i believe the war on drugs is a war for control of drugs. host: ok, go ahead. guest: you do make a point about the hijackers. i think the speaker who was on before with the 911 commission,
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you should have asked him because they did a whole study on that. but the reason we went in is that the taliban, who were controlling afghanistan, allowed the terrorists to do the training and planning and afghanistan, and a lot of the terrorists who worked on it and developed it, including their leader, were in afghanistan and the taliban were protecting them. so that was one of the reasons we went in. we went into find and punish those people, arrest those people, to eliminate them as potential future attackers on the united states. the idea was not to have afghanistan be a fertile area for more terrorists to train and
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get ready to attack us or attack our allies. that was the reason we went in. so the question about narcotics, narcotics is a big problem. opium is a big problem. no doubt about it. but in my team have seen absolutely zero, no evidence that the u.s. government is trying to control opium. as a matter of fact, we have done a pretty bad job trying to control it. i don't know of any western country, anything at all about that. so i have to very adamantly disagree with you about that conspiracy theory of yours. there is no truth to it. host: earlier you said that you had seen programs that work there in afghanistan. what is the best example of one? guest: you know, i would say the
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best example, and it didn't cost much money, what we did with the independent press and media. the state department and usaid spent money helping develop an independent press and media in afghanistan. if you are trying to create a democracy, you've got to have an independent press you've got to have an honest, not government controlled press. if you look at the countries around afghanistan, as bad as things are in the country of afghanistan, if you look at their press, their media, they have a very vibrant -- it is not us, it is no "new york times", abc, cbs, but it is pretty impressive for that poor little country.
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so that is one success. the other thing is with women, with gender. that was in the report this week. the number of girls in school, the number of women who can survive pregnancy over there. those programs were great successes. host: education as well when it comes to women? guest: yes. hardly any girls in school, hardly any schools for girls when the taliban were there. but it's like 3 million, i believe, girls now in school. there are more in the bigger cities. the rural areas are still problems. but that was a success. host: if the independent press there got help from the u.s. government funding everything, can they still remain independent and not be swayed by u.s. interests? guest: they have. it's been very tough on us.
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so it's not like we are paying them a salary and all that. we help them with training, with equipment. we've supported them. people fail to realize, when the ambassador in afghanistan and he secretary of state and every congressman and senator who visits afghanistan tell the afghans and tell the people we support an independent press or we support women's right, or we support anticorruption, that sends a message. that gives top cover to a lot of these journalists and media people, gives top cover to civil psyd. words are a -- civil society. words are a weapon, and we have to realize that, for good or for evil. but when you send a message like our current ambassador does on a regular basis to the afghan people that we are watching, we are here to help you, that is
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significant. you know, that was a message being sent, a message for the media, for the civil society organizations, for the rule of law. that is something that is hard to measure, but it is a tangible change. host: let's go to illinois, republican line. caller: good morning. this is about the obama administration and the tea party and that. did you ever get my messages come into you about the pictures about -- host: this is about afghanistan and reconstructions efforts. do you have any questions about that? caller: [indiscernible] they are all contracts. what he's trying to do is buy
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out the congregation. host: ok, we will leave it there. from savannah, georgia, democrats line, go ahead. caller: hi. when you mentioned air support for the afghan police enforcement and battles that were going on, it reminded me of what our military did in vietnam. when we were sending advisors in , and it was warfare, and then we were advising and teaching them how to defend themselves, yet every time things got sticky, they would call in an airstrike. and when we withdrew, we withdrew the air support, and the only way they knew how to really carry on warfare was with air support. the same thing. so when we go in, we were told we were going to build up their military and make them be able to be self-sufficient.
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and we never did. they don't have an air force. they don't have a way of conducting war the way we do it. same in iraq. as soon as we withdraw, they don't know how to -- when things get sticky, they have to run away, just like when things get sticky for the taliban. they run away and just sort of melt away. that's what guerrilla warfare is. without our military, it is impossible to carry on a war the way we do when you are fighting guerrilla warfare. host: thank you, caller. guest: you do raise a good point, and i think it is an important point we should discuss. part of my job is looking at reconstruction in the way it is defined, looking at our mission to assist the afghan military police. that is important. the bulk of our reconstruction has been to try and help create
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a functioning, effective, democracy appreciating military that won't be used against their own citizens. we had mixed results. but i will tend to disagree a little bit with what you said. the afghans had developed an air force. and actually, one of the success stories from afghanistan and our reconstruction is from georgia. moody air force base did an excellent program training, advising, and assisting the afghan air force in their pilots and their crews, and it was tremendous. we actually recommended everybody should follow their lead. unfortunately, the army didn't, and nobody else did. i wish people would read our reports, maybe. but there is a functioning air force.
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is it able to survive without u.s. trainers and u.s. support? that is the big question. we don't know. general miller, who was our supreme commander there, our senior military official, and others have noted that the air force is good, but we are going to have to keep providing trainers and advisors and assistants for years to come, so they can't really make it totally on their own, but there is a functioning air force. there's a very good special forces capability, and actually we highlight the successes that i think a number of actions taken by their special forces i believe doubled over the last quarter compared to a year ago. so there is some success. can they withstand the taliban? can they continue to fight
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without us being there? we don't know yet, but there are concerns about that. host: let's go to dave, south carolina, independent line. caller: good morning, pedro. good morning, john. first off, it is not for nothing that afghanistan is referred to as the graveyard of empires, ok? it is a rathole for treasure and blood. the tribalism that exists in afghanistan has existed for thousands of years. it is not going to change. they will kill each other with sticks and stones if they don't have guns. you can call a mercenary a contractor all day long. it is still, at the end of the day, a mercenary. they draw blood for gold. that's what they do. ok? it's incredible to me that after 20 years, we still got people saying it is a good idea to be there. i mean, how much gold and blood are we going to waste in that
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part of the world with people that don't care anymore about each other than they do about streptococcus pneumonia? it's incredible to me. host: ok. we will let our guest answer. guest: well, dave, about mercenaries, when i talk about contractors, i was not talking about contractors doing the fighting. there are no contractors that i know of or my agency knows of that are actually doing combat. these are contractors in support , like trainers, teaching them how to fly, or mechanics, or teaching them how to do logistics, so there's no mercenaries i know of in afghanistan, and i think our military have been very cautious about any proposal that would bring in mercenaries to do that, and i think the afghan government doesn't want
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mercenaries. they are providing the blood, sweat and tears for the fighting right now. hundreds of thousands of afghans have died over the course of it. you want to read the history of afghanistan, is is an interesting history. i would recommend great game -- recommend "the great game," a history written by a british historian years ago. it is a fantastic to read. but to portray the afghans as this bloodthirsty, cruel easterners who do this i think is unfair. over the decades, i go there four times a year -- at least, i used to before covid -- for weeks at a time. i've met a lot of god-fearing, honest, honorable afghan men and
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women who are not risking their lives in the military, but risking their lives as investigative journalists, doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, or just common citizens. to portray them as different than us, certainly their culture is different. their clothes are different, their food is different a mother accent is different. but they are not different than us. what they want is the same thing we want. we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of justice. they do, too. their definition of justice, their definition of democracy, their definition of rights for women and boys and children and whatever may be a little different because of their culture, but that is no different. it doesn't make them evil.
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that doesn't make them less human, less like uri. -- like you or i. and i think we should keep that in mind. that distinction is not just bad for us as americans, but is bad for afghans and any other country where we need and want their support. host: let's work in one more call from troy in pennsylvania, republican line. caller: my question, did they put anybody in jail for putting combat posts at the bottom of the hills? did they also know that the taliban said at the beginning that they would not withstand the fight because we don't have the appetite for it? and those fighters were ready to leave.
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and then, and the reconstruction , i so those houses they made in downtown kabul. they all got burnt up because the taliban have a stake in the reconstruction. there's a war going on. there's not a peace. and it seems that people keep thinking there's no war going on over there. host: we will leave it there. guest: well, i don't know what the reference is to building the fort at the bottom of the hill, other than that it was a great movie that came out about some of our troops who saw combat there. but we have not looked at that. that is not part of my job to look at the actual war fighting itself of the u.s. military, so i can't answer that.
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i didn't quite understand all the questions that the caller had about the taliban and houses in kabul, so i can't really answer that question. host: let me finish with this, then. when it comes to infrastructure in afghanistan, has it improved because of u.s. efforts? guest: to some extent, yes. the better question, has it improved as much as it should have with the amount of money we have spent there? and the answer is no. we have wasted a lot of money. if we don't change our ways, if we don't have oversight, continued oversight, if we don't make oversight mission-critical, and anyone who's in the military will know what mission-critical means, if we don't, we are going to waste more money. if we don't hold their feet, the afghans' feet, as far as the
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taliban, to the fire, we will lose more. host: you can find the work of his and his team at sigar.mil. announcer: c-span's washington journal. every day we're taking your calls live on the air on the news of the day and we'll discuss policy issues. coming up monday morning. the attorney general confirmation hearing. and then a discussion of f.d.a. and c.d.c. vaccine advisor boards. watch c-span's washington journal live at 7:00 eastern monday morning and be sure to join the squgs your phone calls, facebook comments, text messages and tweets.

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