The Afghan government faces an ‘existential crisis’ as U.S. forces withdraw and the Taliban advance, an independent watchdog appointed by Congress reported on Thursday.
The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko blasted the 20-year, $145 billion U.S. effort for its ‘overoptimism’ and the way officials focused on reaching artificial targets rather than seeing the bigger picture of stability and security.
‘Civilian casualties hit a record high in May and June, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan,’ he wrote in his latest report to Congress.
‘The overall trend is clearly unfavorable to the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if it isn’t addressed and reversed.’
In his latest report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko warned that the Afghan government faced an ‘existential crisis’ if Taliban advances could not be reversed. He painted a bleak picture of the U.S. effort in the country
Afghan commando forces gather together in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021. Sopko said it was only now that the U.S. would discover whether $88 billion spent on the country’s armed forces had been properly invested
The Taliban have made rapid gains in recent weeks. In this recent photo, people wave a Taliban flag as they drive through the Pakistani border town of Chaman where insurgents claimed they had captured the Afghan side of the border crossing of Spin Boldak
Washington agreed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan as the Kabul government pursued a peace deal with the Taliban.
However, talks have stalled while insurgents have captured a swath of the country.
At the same time, President Biden has committed to bringing troops home by the end of August.
Sopko’s report makes clear that the U.S.-Taliban deal triggered an insurgent offensive that caught government forces unprepared.
He said part of the problem were monitoring and evaluation programs that created created conditions for ‘doing the wrong thing perfectly.’
‘That is, programs could be deemed “successful” even if they had not achieved or contributed to broader, more important goals – such as creating an effective Afghan security force and a stable Afghanistan,’ he said.
‘Closely related to this finding is one of the report’s central themes: the pervasiveness of overoptimism.’
The evaluation process, he concluded, ‘displayed a tendency to elevate good news and anecdotes over data suggesting a lack of progress.’
For example, he said the impact of corruption within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces – including the existence of nonexistent ‘ghost’ soldiers and police – undermined rosy assessments of their combat readiness.
Afghan soldiers pause on a road at the front line of fighting between Taliban and Security forces, near the city of Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan, Sunday, July. 4, 2021.
A Pakistani paramedic treats men, who were injured in a fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban in Spin Boldak border area, at a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan, Friday, July 16
‘More than $88 billion has been appropriated to support Afghanistan’s security sector,’ he wrote.
‘The question of whether that money was well spent will ultimately be answered by the outcome of the fighting on the ground.’
The picture is bleak, according to his report.
The Afghan air force, thought to be one of the government’s last remaining advantages over the Taliban is overstretched, said Sopko.
He reported that aircraft were operating at 25 percent over their recommended maintenance intervals, resulting in a reduction in readiness.
So although its fleet of AC-208 light attack combat aircraft was at 93 percent readiness in April and May, the figure was 63 percent in June.
Sopko’s report is the latest in a string of bleak assessments.
Last week, the most senior U.S. general said the Taliban were in control of more than half Afghanistan’s district centers as they advanced across the country.
‘This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people – the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,’ said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Pentagon press conference.
And on Monday, the United Nations said Afghanistan may face the highest civilian death toll in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives were not halted.
Some 1,659 civilians were killed and another 3,254 wounded in the first half of the year – a 47 percent increase on the same period in 2020, said The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
While the U.S. withdraws, the Taliban has been on a mission to build relations. In this image, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a photo during their meeting in Tianjin, China, on Wednesday
The global jihadi movement has interpreted the U.S. withdrawal as a sign of Washington’s defeat prompting the Taliban to launch a public, charm offensive as they seek international recognition.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign minister met a delegation of senior Taliban leaders.
A photo posted on the ministry’s website made it look like a reception for a visiting diplomatic delegation.
It showed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his Taliban colleagues posing with Wang Ji before they sat down to talks.
‘The Taliban are a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan and are expected to play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction,’ said Wang, according to the Associated Press.