The chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan lasted 20 years, a key watchdog agency mandated by Congress concluded just days before the collapse of the government against the Taliban on Sunday.
The nearly $ 1 trillion in US spending since late 2001 was hampered by a changing US strategy, Afghan corruption, unsustainable projects and a lack of “understanding of the Afghan context” after decades of war, according to a report Tuesday. by John Sopko. Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, or Sigar.
“If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that can sustain itself and pose little threat to America’s national security interests, the overall picture is grim,” Sopko wrote in the report, drafted before the swift takeover. of the Taliban last week.
Thirteen years of reports from Sigar issued warnings about inaccurate data that inflated the size of the Afghan forces. In one province, Sigar wrote, up to 70% of the reported security forces were “ghost soldiers” or fictitious.
On Tuesday, he released the report highlighting the poor understanding the United States had of Afghanistan from the start. The United States repeatedly failed to recognize the importance of ethnic dynamics within the security forces, for example.
“By providing material and equipment support to certain units” within the security forces “without taking into account ethnic dynamics between units, the United States could be perceived to be biased in favor of one ethnic group or faction at the expense of another.” .
Billions of dollars of spending on reconstruction efforts were hampered by the high turnover of US personnel managing the projects, but typically spending a year or less in the country before moving forward.
Since 2002, “the US government has continually fought to identify the right staff, train them properly, keep them in the country long enough to be effective, and allow them to spend enough time with their replacement to turn in their work before leaving.” , Sopko wrote.
Most damning from a cost perspective was how money spent became a measure of success, regardless of whether it was well spent.
There was “enormous pressure to demonstrate progress to Congress and the American and Afghan people distorted the systems of accountability into spinning machines.” The result was that “there was little appetite for honest evaluations of what worked and what didn’t.”
By spending the money “faster than it could be counted, the US government ultimately achieved the opposite of what it intended: fueled corruption, delegitimized the Afghan government and increased insecurity,” according to the report. “Perversely, because it was the easiest to monitor, the amount of money spent by a program often became the most important measure of success.”
In an address to the nation on Monday, President Joe Biden said he defended his decision to withdraw and criticized the Afghan forces, which were trained by the United States for two decades, for not putting up more resistance. Critics of Biden said the pullout should have been delayed and the United States should have planned it better.
But Sigar’s latest report, beyond criticizing both Biden and Trump, made clear that all administrations since George W. Bush can share the blame.
Afghanistan was a country ravaged by decades of conflict when US special forces arrived in late 2001, intent on overthrowing the Taliban regime that housed al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 conspirator Osama bin Laden.
In addition to a shattered economy with “destroyed” infrastructure and the worst social indicators in the world, “Afghans had no experience participating in elections, much less running them,” Sigar said, citing a March 2002 World Bank report. The report continuous:
“There were no independent media and civil society was anemic. Life expectancy was 56 years, lower than 83% of countries at that time. The under-five mortality rate was in the bottom 15 percent of countries globally. Women and girls were officially banned from schools and the workforce. Only 21% of eligible children were enrolled in primary school. ”
Sopko’s review, after 13 years of reporting on the successes and failures of America’s efforts in Afghanistan, was bolstered by 760 interviews with current and former lawmakers, ambassadors, generals, military officials, development experts and other professionals.
The report credited Biden for acknowledging that 20 years of shifting or inconsistent strategy and nearly unlimited spending “failed to achieve the desired change and had little chance of achieving it.”
But Biden’s decision “regardless of the Taliban’s advances or the prospects for peace” also left it “uncertain whether even the modest achievements of the past two decades will be sustainable,” he said.
The deal the Trump administration sought with the Taliban was also flawed from the start. Because the Taliban “have been dominating the battlefield for over a decade, they had little motivation to participate in the peace talks” in Doha, Qatar, “beyond what was necessary to secure the release of more than 5,000 prisoners. , ensure the removal of US and UN sanctions, accumulate international legitimacy and claim credit for negotiating the departure of US forces. ”
“Notably, none of those goals required a commitment to the Afghan government,” Sopko wrote.
Still, amid the rubble of what appeared to be a failed intervention, “there is no doubt, however, that the lives of millions of Afghans have improved thanks to US government interventions,” Spoko wrote. By 2018, for example, “life expectancy had increased from 56 to 65 years, a 16% increase” since 2001.
Between 2000 and 2019, the under-five mortality rate “plummeted by more than 50%” and “between 2001 and 2019, Afghanistan’s human development index increased by 45%. Between 2002 and 2019, Afghanistan’s GDP per capita nearly doubled and overall GDP nearly tripled, even taking inflation into account, ”although economic growth was closely linked to international aid.
While the conflict killed 2,443 US soldiers and 1,144 Allied soldiers, Afghans bore the brunt, according to the Sopko report. At least 66,000 Afghan soldiers have died and more than 48,000 Afghan civilians have died with at least 75,000 wounded since 2001, “both likely significant underestimates,” he wrote.
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