IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute


President Joe Biden said in April 2021 that by September of this year the U.S. military will depart from Afghanistan. Security on bases and outposts of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces were stepped up as the Taliban continued to seize and contest the country’s territory despite continuing peace negotiations with the Afghan Government. The Taliban have also begun to seize more land more quickly than previously. The military of the United States increased its withdrawal from Afghanistan in May 2021.

In early August, a number of urban centres, particularly Kandahar in the South and Herat in the West, were begun by the Taliban. On 6 August 2021 the Taliban captured the city of the southern province of Nimruz, making it the Taliban’s first provincial capital. After then, the provincial capitals began to fall one by one in rapid succession. In consequence, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was forced to flee the country and, on 15 August 2021, the Afghan government fell when the Taliban invaded the capital of Afghanistan. The fast collapse of the Afghan Government has exacerbated an already awful humanitarian situation.

According to declassified papers released by the US National Security Archive, the US administration deceived the American public for almost two decades about progress in Afghanistan while hiding uncomfortable information about continuing failures via private channels, including high-level “snowflake” memos written by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the George W. Bush administration, critical cables sent back to Washington from the US by US ambassadors during both the Bush and Obama administrations, the deeply flawed Pentagon strategy document.

According to the most recent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report to Congress, published on July 31, 2021, just as multiple provincial capitals fell to the Taliban, senior US generals repeatedly expressed confidence in the Afghan security forces’ increasing capability. The SIGAR ends with the cautionary statement: More than US$ 88 billion has been allocated to help Afghanistan’s security sector. If that money is used well, the outcome of fighting on the ground, which is arguably the most pure M&E [monitoring and evaluation] exercise, will ultimately decide if it was worthwhile. There are now concrete outcomes, including the collapse of the Afghan government and the beginning of a humanitarian crisis. Among the topics discussed are the lack of “visibility into who the bad guys are;” “mission creep,” as what began as a counter-terror effort against al-Qaeda morphed into a nation-building war against the Taliban; and Washington’s attention deficit disorder as the conflict dragged on for years.

According to the special inspector general, John Sopko, any improvements in “life expectancy, infant mortality, GDP [gross domestic product] per capita, and literacy rates” achieved during the US mission were not “commensurate with the United States contribution or sustained after the United States withdrew.” “If the goal was to rebuild and leave a country capable of self-sufficiency and posing little threat to US national security interests, the overall image of the US mission is bleak,” Sopko said.

The SIGAR position was established “to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities,” and the special inspector general is responsible for conducting periodic audits and investigations as part of that mandate. Officials in Washington established precise timelines on the mistaken premise that a decision in Washington would change the calculation of complex Afghan institutions, powerbrokers, and populations under attack by the Taliban. Additionally critical of the US government, Sopko cited bureaucratic inefficiency, counterproductive military and civilian personnel policies and practises as contributing to “one of the mission’s most significant failures“: billions of dollars were “wasted” on unsustainable institutions and infrastructure projects. “The US government failed to grasp the Afghan context and, as a consequence, its efforts were misdirected,” the report said. According to the writers, “a significant factor in Afghanistan’s strategic, operational, and tactical failures has been a lack of knowledge of the underlying social, cultural, and political conditions.”

However, for years, U.S. taxpayers have been told that victory is still achievable despite the difficult circumstances.

Note: This article appeared on Geopolitica, dated 02 September 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.


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