WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hanging from John Sopko’s office in a building outside the Pentagon is a plaque that states, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
Sopko told Breitbart News that is a motto he lives by, noting that it “could apply to most bureaucracies.”
As the U.S Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Sopko is the steward of nearly $120 billion in taxpayer funds.
His devotion to oversight has rendered him both a respected U.S. watchdog and a “four letter word” among the segments of the government he supervises.
During an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Sopko said the United States “overwhelmed” Afghanistan with too much money at the beginning of the war in October 2001.
“You can drown somebody in goodness. It’s the comedy of the absurd when it comes down to [U.S.] assistance [to Afghanistan] and we are just drowning Afghans in money. And when you drown somebody in money, you can’t be surprised that some of it gets wasted,” Sopko told Breitbart News.
“The American people should demand accountability,” he said later, adding that people in the United States should care about the Afghanistan war “because is a national security issue for the U.S. government. We are also spending billions of dollars there and we have a lot of American lives at risk.”
About 8,400 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Since the war started in October, the United States government has appropriated more than $700 billion, including about $120 billion for reconstruction efforts.
Even after the vast U.S. investments, Sopko said Afghanistan’s “security has deteriorated” since he took office in 2012.
He identified the lack of “security” as his top concern.
Sopko told Breitbart News the current chaos in the country is hindering the SIGAR agency’s ability to carry out its duties, preventing his auditors from traveling to certain places.
More U.S. troops or State Department security personnel would help alleviate that problem, he pointed out.
As IG for the nation-building effort, Sopko’s duty is to protect American taxpayer dollars from wasteful spending, fraud, and abuse.
“Our job here is to highlight problems and try to fix them and, as a result, we break a lot of crockery and we’re not liked by some people. A lot of people like the status quo,” he explained.
He pointed out that the U.S. and Afghan governments share equal blame for the egregious mismanagement of American taxpayer dollars.
Nevertheless, Sopko revealed that no one in government has been reprimanded.
“The lack of accountability has shocked me the most” since becoming IG in 2012, declared SIGAR, stressing that “nobody is responsible for wasting taxpayer’s dollars.”
“I think it’s starting with Gen. [Jim] Mattis, he is the first secretary of defense to take an IG report and send it out to his senior officials and say let’s do something about it,” he proclaimed.
During the exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Sopko discussed the importance of his job to the future of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as President Donald Trump’s administration debates a new strategy that the commander-in-chief expects to be a departure from the failed plans of his predecessors.
“If we proceed no matter what, no matter what the number of troops, no matter how much money we spend, it’s got to be a whole of government approach,” he said, noting that the U.S. military cannot carry on the burden alone.
Government and military officials generally avoid inspectors general (IGs), so Sopko’s role is not at all glorified, particularly among those he is duty bound to supervise.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), who served in Afghanistan, summed up how some in the government feel about SIGAR’s oversight when he joked during a hearing on July 26, “Mr. Sopko, thank you for what you do. Like I told you before, when I was in theater Sopko was a four-letter word, but on behalf of the American taxpayer I sure appreciate what you do.”
“I do have a lot of support,” said Sopko. “A lot of the people who have served and a lot of people who have done policy issues realize somebody needs to save us and that’s what my job is.”
Sopko is optimistic about the future of the Afghanistan, telling Breitbart News U.S. victory in the war-ravaged nation is achievable but “it may take time.”
“Victory is when we can walk away and leave a government in place that can keep the terrorists out. That’s the stated reason why we’re there. We went into Afghanistan to kick the terrorists out and create a stable government that can keep terrorist out,” he said.