U.S. ‘rarely’ enforced the conditions on billions of Afghan military aid: Audit

Over the decades the U.S. fought in Afghanistan, the federal government set forth several conditions regarding the tens of billions in taxpayer dollars spent in military assistance to Kabul’s security forces but “rarely” enforced those conditions, according to a recent audit.

As such, American officials over time essentially lost a great deal of control over spending that ultimately topped $89 billion, though, in the end, Afghan military and security forces melted away as a much smaller total Taliban force regained control over the country.

The audit also found that because of a lack of U.S. control over the conditions, those Afghan forces “might have been less effective, as a result, than they could have been,” Roll Call reported Friday, citing the special inspector general for Afghanistan’s reconstruction’s Oct. 6 report that has not been publicized.

After Afghanistan forces disintegrated in the face of advancing Taliban fighters, Americans were left wondering how it was possible that government forces, following nearly 20 years’ worth of U.S. military training and being supplied with U.S. military gear, could fall apart so quickly. But the inspector general’s audit could provide at least one hint.

The American military assistance office in Afghanistan “did not hold the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to account by enforcing the conditions it established to create a stronger, more professional, and self-reliant ANDSF,” wrote John Sopko, the special IG, in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and other military leaders which is included in the audit report.

“DOD will never know if the ANDSF could have performed at a higher level in the wake of the U.S.’s withdrawal had the department held the ANDSF accountable for failures, rather than performing tasks for them and providing funding regardless of actual progress,” Sopko noted.

Roll Call noted that Sopko’s report was circulated within the Pentagon after it was released early last month but did not garner any response from defense officials. That outlet also reported that the Pentagon had no comment when contacted for the story.

Though the audit was performed before Kabul fell in late August, the auditors noted that their effort “provides important information about the poor performance of the ANDSF in the months and years before its collapse in August 2021.”

Since 2008, Sopko and his staff have regularly reported how corruption within the Afghan government as well as poor monitoring of U.S. spending in the country put the U.S. military and reconstruction mission in danger of failing. Also, there were a number of indicators prior to this U.S. pullout on Aug. 31 that Afghan military and security units would not hold up when needed.

Nevertheless, in a quarterly report to Congress that was released to the public on Friday, Sopko noted that no one within the U.S. government predicted how quickly the ANDSF would collapse.

“No federal entity is on public record predicting the precise timing or the startling speed of the collapse of the Afghan government and security forces,” he noted in a chapter of the report titled, “How Could the ANDSF Disintegrate in 11 Days?”

Also Friday, Sopko noted in an interview he was pushing to have additional elements of various reports made public after the Pentagon uncharacteristically shielded them in recent weeks.

“There is a lot of information that was classified or withheld from the American people over the years, particularly since 2015, to protect the Afghan government from embarrassment,” he told NPR.

“And there is no Ghani government. There is no Afghan government anymore. So we think that information should be immediately released to SIGAR (Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction) and to the American people and Congress in an unclassified format,” he added.

“It was, how good was the Afghan government fighting corruption? How good was the Afghan military able to stand on their own? Casualty rates for the Afghan military, efficiency rates, their ability to actually function as an independent military,” Sopko noted further.

“That was information that the Ghani government requested the U.S. government not share with the American people. There’s no reason to protect it anymore,” he said.

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