Politics

Top U.S. Official for Afghanistan Reconstruction Resigns

As Vice President Biden prepares to meet Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the White House has announced the man overseeing U.S. funding for that country's reconstruction has resigned.

President Obama received the resignation of retired Major General Arnold Fields Monday as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and if complaints from members of Congress are any indication, Mr. Obama is more than likely going to accept it.

Senators have repeatedly expressed concern over Field's performance as the "SIGAR," saying he has failed to act as an independent, aggressive overseer of the billions of U.S. dollars dedicated to rebuilding Afghanistan's infrastructure and providing humanitarian assistance.

However, outwardly at least, the White House is praising Fields's performance. "His team has helped lead the effort to provide comprehensive and independent oversight of fiscal initiatives in Afghanistan," a White House press release announcing Fields's resignation reads.

"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," it continues.

But in a letter to President Obama on September 23 of last year, several prominent Senators bluntly called for Fields to be removed, saying, "We urge you to act now. We are disappointed by your Administration's ongoing failure to take decisive actions to make changes at SIGAR."

The letter was signed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who told Mr. Obama that an investigation revealed SIGAR had failed to meet the applicable minimum standards for conducting its own investigations. Additionally, the Senators were disappointed in the high quantity of low quality audits that the office performed, which they feared would be vulnerable to challenge.

The Senators say the investigation showed that "SIGAR is a failing organization."

Just last week, Fields fired his two aides who dealt with the specific areas of the Senators' concern-- audits and investigations-- and replaced them with their deputies. "I am continuing, along with my Deputy, with the top to bottom review of this agency to ensure that we have the right staff with the right skill set to fulfill our mandate," Fields said in a statement posted on SIGAR's website.

At this point, the office of SIGAR remains intact. One White House aide told Fox's Mike Emanuel that Fields was not fired. The aide insisted the resignation was his own decision, after having conversations with some in the administration.

After the administration's Afghanistan review last fall, everybody was looking toward a transition and focusing efforts in a different direction, says the aide.

Fields was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008 as the first SIGAR. No replacement has yet been named.

As for Fields's future, The White House says simply Fields now "moves on to new challenges."