Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion Photo

Corruption in Conflict—the first in a series of lessons learned reports by SIGAR—examines how the U.S. government understood the risks of corruption in Afghanistan, how the U.S. response to corruption evolved, and the effectiveness of that response.

This report is separated into three periods that address the U.S. approach to corruption in Afghanistan

This report draws important lessons from the U.S. experience with corruption in Afghanistan since 2001. It is vital that these lessons inform and improve not only ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, but also future U.S. contingency operations.

When U.S. military forces and civilians entered Afghanistan in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, they were immediately faced with the difficult task of trying to stabilize a country devastated by decades of war and poverty. Against that background, the U.S. government did not place a high priority on the threat of corruption in the first years of the reconstruction effort.

By 2009, however, many senior U.S. officials saw systemic corruption as a strategic threat to the mission.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker
World Economic Forum Photo / Faruk Pinjo

The ultimate point of failure for our efforts...wasn't an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker, 2016

Marines host an economic and development shura in 2009.
U.S. Marines Photo / Sgt. Scott Whittington

The report identifies five main findings from which we draw lessons and recommendations for improvement.

  1. Corruption undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fueling grievances and channeling support to the insurgency.
  2. The U.S. contributed to the growth of corruption.
  3. The U.S. was slow to recognize the magnitude of the problem.
  4. U.S. security and political goals consistently trumped strong anticorruption actions.
  5. Anticorruption efforts lacked sustained political commitment and saw limited success.

Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan

Based on the report's findings, SIGAR draws six key lessons to inform reconstruction efforts at the onset of and throughout contingency operations.

  • Make anticorruption a top priority

    President Obama, General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry in Kabul
    The White House Photo / Pete Souza

    The U.S. government should make anticorruption efforts a top priority in contingency operations to prevent systemic corruption from undermining U.S. strategic goals.

  • Develop a shared understanding of corruption

    U.S. soldiers and Afghan men talking at a market
    U.S. Army Photo / Spc. Canaan Radcliffe

    U.S. agencies should develop a shared understanding of the nature and scope of corruption in a host country through political economy and network analyses.

  • Consider limits and monitor assistance

    ANA Officer
    USAID Photo

    The U.S. government should take into account the amount of assistance a host country can absorb, and agencies should improve their ability to effectively monitor this assistance.

  • Integrate security, stability, and anticorruption

    An ANA officer in line
    ISAF Joint Command Photo / PO2 Eliezer Gabriel

    U.S. strategies and plans should incorporate anticorruption objectives into security and stability goals, rather than viewing anticorruption as imposing tradeoffs on those goals.

  • Recognize solutions are political

    An Afghan man casts his ballot in an election
    Photo by Helmand PRT Lashkar Gah

    The U.S. government should recognize that solutions to endemic corruption are fundamentally political. Therefore, the United States should bring to bear high-level, consistent political will when pressing the host government for reforms and ensuring U.S. policies and practices do not exacerbate corruption.


To address corruption risks to U.S. strategic objectives in contingency operations, SIGAR recommends 11 legislative and executive branch actions. The recommendations aim to provide better policies, organizations, analytical tools, information, and staffs to policymakers faced with the difficult decisions inherent in reconstruction efforts.

Sections of the Report

This report is divided into five sections. You can get to each section by using the "Report Sections" icon in the upper right of the screen.

Part 1: 2001-2008 Failure to Appreciate the Threat
Part 2: 2009-2010 A Call to Action
Part 3: 2010-2014 A Limited U.S. Government Response
Lessons From the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan
Recommendations To the Legislative and Executive Branches

Learn More

The full report, in addition to other SIGAR reports on reconstruction in Afghanistan, can be found on SIGAR's main website.

SIGAR's Lessons Learned Program

The mission of SIGAR's Lessons Learned Program is to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of current and future reconstruction efforts through comprehensive evidence-based analysis of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan since 2001. Learn more.