Ghost Schools

The United States trumpets education as one of its shining successes of the war in Afghanistan. But a BuzzFeed News investigation reveals U.S. claims were often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student.

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  1. I started in the birthplace of the Taliban, and worked my way around battlefield provinces in Afghanistan to look at an issue that the United States trumpets as one of its biggest successes in the country and a key strategy in the war to win hearts and minds: education.
  2. Based on visits to more than 50 schools, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews, I found U.S. education claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper.
  3. In the areas where most U.S. funding was concentrated — territories that were key to winning the war — American efforts have fallen woefully short of the grand claims the government made. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
  4. What went wrong is a story of overhyping in Washington, of noble intentions going astray in a society America did not understand, and of the pitfalls of using humanitarian aid and “soft power” to support military and political goals.
  5. Once, not too long ago, this was a school in Kandahar.
    Once, not too long ago, this was a school in Kandahar.
  6. At least a tenth of the schools I visited no longer exist, are not operating, or were never built in the first place.
  7. The overwhelming majority of the schools still running resemble abandoned buildings — marred by collapsing roofs, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, protruding electrical wires, decaying doors, or other structural defects.
  8. The education provided varies wildly, from math and science to, at one school the U.S. military claimed it built, but actually left unfinished, little more than memorizing the Qur’an in a cramped mosque.
  9. Girls at the mosque school get only a religious education from the local mullah. The little time a visiting UNICEF-funded teacher has for subjects such as math and reading is reserved for the boys.
  10. This Afghan boy is studying on the ground right by a school the U.S. says it built - but in fact left unfinished. A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals the U.S. has lied about its effort to educate Afghan children. Its grand claims are riddled with ghost schools, ghost teachers, and ghost students.
    This Afghan boy is studying on the ground right by a school the U.S. says it built - but in fact left unfinished. A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals the U.S. has lied about its effort to educate Afghan children. Its grand claims are riddled with ghost schools, ghost teachers, and ghost students.
  11. I also found far fewer students than were officially recorded as enrolled.
  12. Girls, whom the U.S. particularly wanted to draw into formal schooling, were overcounted in official records by about 40%.
  13. Instagram photo by Azmat Khan * Mar 19, 2015 at 6:21pm UTC
    Instagram photo by Azmat Khan * Mar 19, 2015 at 6:21pm UTC
  14. According to documents I obtained, USAID knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated by as much as 20%, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.
  15. Left my heart in Pasab. ❤️
    Left my heart in Pasab. ❤️
  16. For years, USAID claimed that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.
  17. The military, the other main source of U.S. funding for education, said it did not know how many schools it has funded since the war began, or how the more than $250 million in defense dollars earmarked for education were actually used.
  18. Instagram photo by Azmat Khan * Jul 16, 2015 at 6:42pm UTC
    Instagram photo by Azmat Khan * Jul 16, 2015 at 6:42pm UTC
  19. The investigation prompted action in the United States and Afghanistan.

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