The Cable

Afghan oversight official Fields resigns

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction retired Gen. Arnie Fields submitted his resignation Monday, ending over a year of congressional complaints about his performance in overseeing tens of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer reconstruction funding in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued by the press secretary's office, the White House praised Fields' tenure and avoided mentioning any of the criticisms leveled by senior senators, including Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

"Under General Fields' tenure, SIGAR produced numerous critical reports that have improved reconstruction efforts, and helped insure that U.S.-funded programs are achieving their objectives," the White House said. "General Fields' hard work and steadfast determination have established SIGAR as a critical oversight agency... As he moves on to new challenges, he can do so confident in the knowledge that the President and the American people owe him a debt of gratitude for his courage, leadership, and selfless service to our nation."

The resignation on Monday came as a surprise to watchers around Washington, including those on Capitol Hill who had been working on his ouster, according to multiple senate aides who had been following the ordeal. Following a meeting White House staff in mid December, McCaskill told The Cable that she couldn't get any firm answers from the White House on what they planned to do about Fields.

Fields had come under heavy criticism for his leadership of an oversight office that is failing to effectively monitor the allocation of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds that are being invested in infrastructure in Afghanistan. Fields was criticized for running an office that failed to recover significant amounts of funds lost due to waste, fraud, and abuse. The work product from SIGAR, which included investigations and audits, was seen as incomplete and often off target by Congressional overseers. A memo circulated by Hill staffers earlier this year outlined the shortcomings of several of the organization's audits.

In her capacity as chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, McCaskill called Fields to testify on Nov. 18, where she pointed out that the taxpayers have given $46.2 million to the SIGAR office, but their investigations have only resulted in collections of $8.2 million.

Last July, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which is meant to oversee the overseers, issued a scathing report on SIGAR, which only fueled the fire of lawmakers calling for Fields' removal.

Last week, Fields fired two of his top deputies in an apparent bid to get out ahead of the many criticisms of his leadership at SIGAR, but the move proved not to be enough to save his job. There's no word yet on his possible replacement.

"They better put a rock star in there to replace him, because we are going to keep on watching this one closely," a senior Senate aide close to the issue told The Cable.

The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001; that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.

The Cable

Biden makes surprise trip to Afghanistan

Vice President Joseph Biden is in Kabul right now to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a move that could signal his increased involvement in the issue following last month's unexpected death of Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.

This is Biden's first trip to Afghanistan since becoming vice president. He has taken the lead within the administration in dealing with Iraq, and has been credited with assisting Iraqi leaders with the government formation process and the transfer of responsibility away from departing U.S. military forces there.

"The primary purpose of the trip is to assess progress toward the transition to Afghan-led security beginning this year, and to demonstrate the United States' commitment to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan," the White House said in statement.

Biden's arrived at about 7:30 p.m. Kabul local time and was greeted at the airport by ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and three Afghan officials. He will meet with U.S. military and civilian personnel and also will tour an Afghan National Army training center.

The trip was kept secret, due to security concerns, but Karzai was made aware of the visit last week.

Biden first met with Petraeus and Eikenberry for about an hour, to get an "update from them on the situation on the ground," a senior administration official said. Biden is scheduled to have lunch with Karzai during his trip and then both sides will hold a larger meeting with officials from both sides in attendance

Biden, a longtime Philadelphia Eagles fan, watched the Eagles-Packers playoff game from the plane, wearing a black Eagles cap. But the game cut off during the 4th quarter, so Biden was fortunate enough to miss quarterback Michael Vick's last-minute interception, which sealed the Eagles' defeat.

Holbrooke's temporary replacement Frank Ruggiero was also in Kabul Monday, following a visit to Pakistan. Ruggiero delivered the message that Holbrooke's SRAP office will remain intact, although Ruggiero himself is not expected to be head of that office permanently, the Washington Post reported.

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