A recent report to Congress by the Special Inspector General (IG) for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko revealed that few safeguards exist over the taxpayer dollars designed to aid the Afghan people. The new information follows an April 2023 hearing at which the IG pointed out to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that billions of US dollars are in the pipeline to Afghanistan, and he cannot guarantee that they are being spent on the humanitarian projects intended. This same message was conveyed in previous SIGAR reports, with no noticeable response by the Biden administration to address the issue.
Congressional Testimony on Afghanistan Revealing
In April, Sopko testified before Congress, explaining:
“There are still major problems with our assistance in Afghanistan that this committee should be alerted to. The United States has appropriated $2.0 billion for Afghanistan assistance since the withdrawal. A further $3.5 billion may be available through this newly created Switzerland-based Afghan fund. While I agree and we all agree Afghanistan faces a dire humanitarian and economic situation, it is critical that our assistance not be diverted by the Taliban. Unfortunately, as I sit here today, I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban.”
Worse yet, Sopko explained that the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) have been complicit in standing in the way of SIGAR carrying out its oversight responsibilities. The obstruction has been “unprecedented” over the past 12 years. “USAID’s lack of cooperation and, more importantly, the Department of State’s obfuscation and delay in responding to SIGAR’s requests for information seriously hindered our ability to fully report to Congress,” complained the latest assessment sent to Congress. Sopko warned in his cover letter to the July 30, 2023, report that the State Department and USAID impeded the application of strong fiscal program and process controls. Consequently, “(I)t is no longer a question of whether the Taliban are diverting assistance from our programs to help the Afghan people, but rather how much they are diverting.” The IG included the United Nations among the agencies not cooperating to provide information necessary for SIGAR to do its oversight job.
Life in Afghanistan Getting Worse
With all the money pouring in from the United States and other donors, things should be getting better for the Afghans, right? Wrong. Women especially have suffered under the Taliban. According to the US Institute of Peace, since the 2021 takeover of the Afghan government, the Taliban have banned women and girls from parks and gyms, from playing sports, from working in government agencies and decision-making managerial positions, and from working as lawyers, judges, and in other positions in the Afghan justice system.
What about the Taliban promising not to allow terrorist cells to get a renewed foothold in Afghanistan? “(S)ince gaining power in August 2021 to be more inclusive, counter terrorism, respect human rights, and not pose a security threat to the region, the UN says that the Taliban ‘shows no signs of bending to pressure for reform or compromise,’” the SIGAR report stated. Despite the touted US ability to engage bad actors in Afghanistan with long-range air operations and “over-the-horizon” missions to engage terrorists, few missions have proved a deterrent to the Taliban providing a safe space for jihadist cells.
So, what has been the return on the US’ $2.35 billion investment in Afghanistan? Not much. To put the finances in perspective, according to the Defense Department comptroller, the American taxpayer could have bought two new US Navy Constellation Class Guided Missile Frigates or a modern DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer with change left over. Instead, all of the money spent since Biden’s disastrous withdrawal has done little to improve the plight of the Afghan people. For another comparison, the Biden administration’s contribution to a sworn enemy of the United States, the Taliban, is 150% more than the $1.56 billion budgeted to the US Customs and Border Protection forces “to respond to increased encounters at the Southwest Border” of America to stem the flood of illegal aliens. Clearly, the White House’s national security priorities are not aligned with keeping citizens safe.
The US foreign policy and humanitarian outreach programs need more oversight to ensure American taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are spent to help the Afghan people, not the Taliban. The State Department and USAID must be held to account and cooperate with SIGAR. Otherwise, whose side are they are on?
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