Watchdog warns US withdrawal could plunge Afghan government into ‘existential’ crisis

The Afghan government faces an “existential crisis” as US troops withdraw and the Taliban advance, an independent watchdog appointed by Congress said Thursday.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, has criticized the 20-year, $145 billion US effort for its “over-optimism” and the way officials focused on achieving artificial goals rather than the bigger picture. of stability and security.

“The number of civilian casualties reached an all-time high in May and June, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan,” he wrote in his latest report to Congress.

“The general trend is clearly unfavorable for the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if not addressed and vice versa.”

In his latest report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, warned that the Afghan government would face an “existential crisis” if the Taliban’s advances could not be reversed. He painted a bleak picture of US efforts in the country

Afghan commando forces gather in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021. Sopko said the US would only now discover whether $88 billion spent on the country's armed forces was properly invested

Afghan commando forces gather in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021. Sopko said the US would only now discover whether $88 billion spent on the country’s armed forces was properly invested

The Taliban have made rapid gains in recent weeks.  In this recent photo, people wave a Taliban flag as they drive through the Pakistani border town of Chaman, where insurgents claimed they had captured the Afghan side of the Spin Boldak border crossing.

The Taliban have made rapid gains in recent weeks. In this recent photo, people wave a Taliban flag as they drive through the Pakistani border town of Chaman, where insurgents claimed they had captured the Afghan side of the Spin Boldak border crossing.

Washington agreed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan while the Kabul government pursued a peace deal with the Taliban.

However, talks have stalled as insurgents have conquered part of the country.

At the same time, President Biden has pledged to bring troops home by the end of August.

Sopko’s report makes it clear that the US-Taliban deal sparked an insurgent offensive that caught government forces unprepared.

He said part of the problem was the monitoring and evaluation programs that created the conditions for “perfectly doing the wrong thing.”

That is, programs can be considered ‘successful’ even if they have not achieved or contributed to broader, more important goals, such as creating an effective Afghan security force and a stable Afghanistan,’ he said.

“Closely related to this finding is one of the central themes of the report: the ubiquity of over-optimism.”

The evaluation process, he concluded, “displayed a tendency to elevate good news and anecdotes over data suggesting a lack of progress.”

For example, he said the impact of corruption within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces — including the existence of nonexistent “ghost soldiers” and police — undermined rosy assessments of their combat readiness.

Afghan soldiers pause on a road on the front lines of clashes between Taliban and security forces, near the town of Badakhshan, in northern Afghanistan, Sunday July.  4, 2021.

Afghan soldiers pause on a road on the front lines of clashes between Taliban and security forces, near the town of Badakhshan, in northern Afghanistan, Sunday July. 4, 2021.

A Pakistani paramedic treats men injured in clashes between Afghan security forces and Taliban in the Spin Boldak border area, at a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan, Friday, July 16

A Pakistani paramedic treats men injured in clashes between Afghan security forces and Taliban in the Spin Boldak border area, at a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan, Friday, July 16

“More than $88 billion has been appropriated to support Afghanistan’s security sector,” he wrote.

“The question of whether that money was well spent is ultimately answered by the outcome of the fighting on the ground.”

The picture is bleak, according to his report.

The Afghan air force, which is considered one of the last remaining advantages of the government over the Taliban, is overstretched, Sopko said.

He reported that aircraft were operating at 25 percent more than their recommended maintenance intervals, resulting in a reduction in readiness.

So while the AC-208 light fighter fleet was 93 percent ready in April and May, it was 63 percent in June.

Sopko’s report is the latest in a series of dismal assessments.

Last week, the top US general said the Taliban controlled more than half of Afghanistan’s district centers as they advanced across the country.

“This will now be a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people – the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference.

And on Monday, the United Nations said Afghanistan could face its highest number of civilian casualties in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives are not halted.

In the first half of the year, some 1,659 civilians were killed and a further 3,254 injured — a 47 percent increase from the same period in 2020, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

As the US pulls out, the Taliban is on a mission to build relationships.  In this image, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a photo during their meeting in Tianjin, China, on Wednesday

As the US pulls out, the Taliban is on a mission to build relationships. In this image, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a photo during their meeting in Tianjin, China, on Wednesday

The global jihadist movement has interpreted the US withdrawal as a sign of Washington’s defeat, prompting the Taliban to launch a public charm offensive in their pursuit of international recognition.

On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign minister met with a delegation of senior Taliban leaders.

A photo on the ministry’s website made it look like a reception for a visiting diplomatic delegation.

It showed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his Taliban colleagues posing with Wang Ji before sitting down to talk.

“The Taliban are a vital military and political force in Afghanistan and are expected to play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction,” Wang said, according to the Associated Press.

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