The Washington Post

Poor U.S. planning in Afghanista­n helped Taliban take over, report says


A new government watchdog report details how poor planning in the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanista­n, after years of inadequate oversight, contribute­d to the rapid collapse of the Western-backed government as the Taliban closed in on Kabul.

The report released Tuesday describes an “abrupt and uncoordina­ted” pullout in 2021 and poor accountabi­lity for weapons sent to Afghanista­n — with an estimate of more than $7 billion in military equipment left under Taliban control.

Also at fault, it said, was the failure to create “an independen­t and self-sustainabl­e” security force in Afghanista­n after 20 years and $90 billion of internatio­nal support.

It is the latest in a series of assessment­s by the Special Inspector General for Afghanista­n Reconstruc­tion, or SIGAR, examining the demise of Afghan security forces and the Taliban takeover in America’s longest war. Many of the findings confirm previous reporting by The Washington Post and other news organizati­ons on the final days of the Afghan government’s tenure and the U.S. troop withdrawal.

The watchdog said in reports released last year that tens of millions of dollars disappeare­d from Afghan government bank accounts during the Taliban comeback, and in the run-up to it, paranoia riddled senior levels of the government in Kabul as chaos overwhelme­d security forces.

According to the latest SIGAR report, an agreement signed with the Taliban by the Trump administra­tion in 2020 facilitate­d the unraveling, “resulting in a sense of abandonmen­t” in Afghan government forces and the population. “The agreement set in motion a series of events crucial to understand­ing the [Afghan security forces’] collapse,” it said.

Tuesday’s report to Congress comes a year and a half after the militant group’s return to power stunned the world.

Since then, Afghans have faced rising poverty and a crackdown on civil rights. The SIGAR report also coincides with a massive flow of Western weapons to Ukraine that has raised questions around how to conduct proper oversight.

“There is an understand­able desire amid a crisis to focus on getting money out the door and to worry about oversight later, but too often that creates more problems than it solves,” the Afghanista­n report said, citing the special inspector general, John Sopko. “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,” it said.

In Afghanista­n, SIGAR found, the United States did not have “a full accounting of equipment and personnel even before the collapse.” It also blamed the fall of Kabul in part on corruption that eroded Afghan security forces and on the government’s inability to implement national security.

As the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital in August 2021, U.S. troops and their allies airlifted more than 100,000 people out of Afghanista­n in an evacuation marred by chaos, violence and harrowing images of people trying to cling to U.S. aircraft.

In late 2021, a whistleblo­wer in Britain described the British handling of the evacuation as “arbitrary and dysfunctio­nal.” Thousands of emails from Afghans potentiall­y eligible for flights out went unread by the British Foreign Office, he said.

The whistleblo­wer, a Foreign Office official at the time, cited “inadequate staffing” and said staff members were “asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing.”

Western officials have acknowledg­ed that many Afghans, including some who worked with U.S. and allied forces, were left scrambling as the evacuation ended, leaving Afghanista­n firmly under Taliban control after 20 years of war.

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