SIGAR (the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) was established in 2008 to serve as an oversight body. It conducts audits of reconstruction projects and its mission is to look for waste and fraud.
In the wake of the collapse of the Afghan government last year, SIGAR was asked by Congress to look into the causes of the rapid collapse and today it issued an interim report. The text of the report is here.
Here is a summary of the conclusions.
SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021. Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on U.S. military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale. The ANDSF had long relied on the U.S. military’s presence to protect against large-scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries. The U.S.-Taliban agreement made it clear that this was no longer the case, resulting in a sense of abandonment within the ANDSF and the Afghan population. The agreement set in motion a series of events crucial to understanding the ANDSF’s collapse.
The report identifies “six factors that accelerated the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021.”
1) U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021
2) the change in the U.S. military’s level of support to the ANDSF
3) the ANDSF never achieving self-sustainment
4) Afghan President Ashraf Ghani frequently changing ANDSF leaders and appointing loyalists
5) Afghan government’s failing to take responsibility for Afghan security through an implementation of a national security strategy
6) the Taliban’s military campaign effectively exploiting ANDSF weaknesses
In addition, the report identifies “nine factors that explain why, after 20 years and nearly $90 billion in U.S. security assistance, the ANDSF was ill-prepared to sustain security following a U.S. withdrawal”.
1) no country or agency had complete ownership of the ANDSF development mission,
2) the length of the U.S. commitment was disconnected from the reality of the time required to build an entire security sector
3) the U.S. created long-term dependencies that would require significant time to overcome, such as providing the ANDSF with advanced equipment they could not sustain and leaving them out of the equipping process
4) the U.S. military, driven by political deadlines, struggled to balance winning battles with letting the ANDSF gain experience by fighting on their own
5) U.S. metrics created to measure the development of the ANDSF were unable to effectively measure ANDSF capabilities
6) Afghan corruption harmed ANDSF capabilities and readiness
7) U.S. control of the battlespace and of key governance systems restricted Afghan ownership of important military and governance systems
8) U.S. and Afghan governments failed to develop a police force effective at providing justice
9) advisors were often ill-trained and inexperienced for their mission, and personnel rotations impeded institutional memory
SIGAR has been issuing quarterly reports and “lessons learned” reports as part of its mission. Last August, SIGAR issued one of these “lessons learned” reports, the text is here, and this is from the executive summary.
The U.S. government has now spent 20 years and $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan, its security forces, civilian government institutions, economy, and civil society. The Department of Defense (DOD) has also spent $837 billion on warfighting, during which 2,443 American troops and 1,144 allied troops have been killed and 20,666 U.S. troops injured. Afghans, meanwhile, have faced an even greater toll. At least 66,000 Afghan troops have been killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, and at least 75,000 have been injured since 2001—both likely significant underestimations.
What, really, do we have to show for all that blood and treasure? Will anyone be held accountable, even if it’s only at the ballot box? If the American people don’t have the fortitude to hold their leaders accountable, we shouldn’t hold out hope that said leaders will hold themselves accountable.