The Biden administration’s August 2021 bugout from Afghanistan was “abrupt and uncoordinated,” giving locals the impression the US “was simply handing Afghanistan over to a Taliban government-in-waiting,” according to a scathing watchdog report released Monday.
The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found the withdrawal announced by President Biden in April of that year “destroyed the morale of Afghan soldiers and police” who had “long relied on the US military’s presence” for their own protection — as well as to ensure the Kabul government paid their salaries.
Watchdog John F. Sopko also faulted the 2020 Doha Agreement reached between the Trump administration and the Taliban for instilling “a sense of abandonment” in both the Afghan forces and public at large.
“The US-Taliban agreement gave the Taliban its core demand: the complete withdrawal of US and coalition troops, as well as contractors,” the report stated. “The Afghan government, a nonsignatory to the agreement, was excluded from negotiations, legitimating the Taliban on the world stage and further undercutting the Afghan government’s credibility, which many Afghans already viewed as illegitimate.”
Meanwhile, the Western-backed Kabul government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, believed the US would not complete its pullout until an all-Afghan peace deal had been agreed. According to SIGAR, Ghani “read the [Doha] agreement as the conditions-based peace deal it purported to be, not the calendar-based withdrawal deal that it had become.”
Because of that, Ghani’s former national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib told the watchdog, Biden’s withdrawal announcement “was a shock to us because prior to that … US officials had consistently—at every opportunity—assured the Afghan government that they were committed to an ‘independent and democratic Afghanistan’
“They insisted that they wanted a peaceful Afghanistan in which the gains of the last 20 years would be preserved,” Mohib added. “They maintained this position until the very end.”
Meanwhile, the evacuation of US contractors left the Afghan military unable to supply or maintain their own forces, leaving them helpless in the face of the Taliban onslaught.
“We built that army to run on contractor support,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. “Without it, it can’t function. Game over … When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up.”
SIGAR also said the Pentagon failed to properly account for weapons and equipment it provided to Afghanistan’s military.
More than $7 billion worth of US-provided military equipment fell into the hands of the Taliban as a result, the Defense Department’s inspector general estimated in a report last year. The US had spent $18.6 billion arming the Afghanistan military since 2002, according to the IG report.
In the introduction to his report, Sopko accused the Defense and State Departments of stonewalling him, saying that the departments declined to review an interim version of the report issue last year, “denied us access to their staff, and mostly declined to answer requests for information. This limited SIGAR’s ability to perform this evaluation.”
The Pentagon, in comments it submitted to SIGAR, pushed back on the assertion that it kept the Afghans in the dark about their withdrawal plans, saying: “To the contrary, US officials continued to engage the Afghan leadership throughout 2020 and 2021 to reassure them that the ANDSF was a very capable force and that the United States would continue to provide security assistance to the ANDSF even after the withdrawal.”
Sopko fired back: “DOD may be mistaking SIGAR’s analysis of what Afghan officials heard with what U.S. officials were saying. Indeed, it appears what surprised Afghan officials was not the absence of communication, but rather what was being communicated. The report describes how many senior Afghan officials were unwilling to believe that the United States was going to fully withdraw despite repeated signals from the United States.”
The Pentagon’s Afghanistan spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick told The Post that the Defense Department was “well aware” of the IG report and “contributed to and facilitated their work.”
“While we take exception to SIGAR’s assertions of non-cooperation, and address them accordingly … the Department will continue to facilitate SIGAR’s work moving forward for security and defense related matters concerning Afghanistan,” he said.
Congress commissioned the special inspector general’s report weeks after the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021.
In a move sure to reignite oversight concerns about US aid to Ukraine, the inspector general warned that mistakes involving abuse of funds in Afghanistan could reoccur in the European conflict.
“Given the ongoing conflict and the unprecedented volume of weapons being transferred to Ukraine, the risk that some equipment ends up on the black market or in the wrong hands is likely unavoidable,” Sopko said.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said on Twitter the IG report “shows yet again what a disaster Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan was — and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.”
A 2022 report by the House Foreign Affairs Committee found more than 1,000 Americans were also stranded in Afghanistan at the time of the withdrawal.
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