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Poor US planning and oversight led to Afghan Gov’t Collapse: Watchdog

Insufficient planning during the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, coupled with years of inadequate oversight, played a significant role in the quick downfall of the Western-backed government as the Taliban advanced towards Kabul, a new watchdog report details.

The report by The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released on Tuesday depicted an uncoordinated and sudden withdrawal in 2021, as well as inadequate accountability for weapons delivered to Afghanistan, resulting in the Taliban gaining control of over $7 billion worth of military equipment. 

The report also criticised the failure to establish an autonomous and self-sufficient security force in Afghanistan, despite 20 years of international aid amounting to $90 billion.

SIGAR has conducted a sequence of evaluations exploring the collapse of the Afghan security forces and the Taliban’s conquest in America’s longest war. 

According to SIGAR, which is the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, the American mission in Afghanistan was to build an army that could stand on its own feet to resist the Taliban. 

However, the Afghan military was not only riddled with corruption but also designed to function properly only so long as foreign contractors and soldiers remained around to manage it.

Additionally, the US relied heavily on contractors and advisers who were poorly trained and inexperienced for their mission.

READ MORE: Taliban confirms killing of two senior Daesh members in Afghanistan

Half-in, half-out

The report also highlighted the issue of US personnel and contractors rotating in and out of the country on short stints, leading them to repeat the same mistakes as their predecessors every few years. 

This half-in, half-out approach was inconducive to a lasting victory over the Taliban and made it almost certain that the Afghan security forces would not have time to develop the solid institutional structure they would need to survive indefinitely.

According to Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and former US Marine in Afghanistan, the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the US and the Taliban in 2020 did finally put an end to an endeavor that had already been failing for many years. 

The Taliban and the US ultimately wanted the same thing, which was for US troops to leave, and the conditions of the final agreement were not as important as leaving the country as soon as possible.

Afghans were not blameless in this debacle, as ethnic and political divisions within the government resulted in competent commanders being shuffled out of roles in favor of individuals connected to powerbrokers in Kabul.

Corruption at elite levels was endemic, and the issue of “ghost soldiers” continued to dog the Afghan military to its last days.

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Disconnected from reality on the ground

The report concludes that the length of the US commitment was disconnected from a realistic understanding of the time required to build a self-sustaining security sector. 

For a period lasting more than a decade up until the final withdrawal, US political leaders began drawing up timelines for when they would exit the war, recognising how unpopular the war was at home.

In effect, the United States attempted to build an army suitable for a modern, industrialised country like itself, rather than one that would fit the realities of a poor and agrarian state. Tens of thousands of Afghans died fighting the Taliban, continuing the war until the fight became futile.

The US today has moved on from the Afghanistan disaster, providing the Ukrainian military with weapons and tactical support in its fight against Russia. 

However, the question of why the world’s most powerful nation failed to build a capable Afghan military has not yet been fully answered, and the flaws highlighted in the SIGAR report may be relevant to any future foreign conflicts or nation-building enterprises that the US embarks upon.
READ MORE: Death toll from wave of bitter cold rises in Afghanistan

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