In years of auditing the U.S. war on terrorism in Afghanistan, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has never pulled punches or watered down its reporting on the billions of tax dollars wasted propping up the war-torn nation.
And in its latest audit of President Joe Biden’s bungled August 2021 withdrawal, the office that goes by the acronym SIGAR was typically harsh in evaluating the Afghan and U.S. efforts both at the end of the war and the 20-year campaign.
After spending $145 billion to create a self-sustaining government and rid the nation of terrorists, the experiment failed.
“The United States sought to build stable, democratic, representative, gender-sensitive, and accountable Afghan governance institutions. It failed,” said the report.
For emphasis, SIGAR promoted this quote from Chris Mason, associate professor of national security at the U.S. Army War College: “U.S. efforts to build and sustain Afghanistan’s governing institutions were a total, epic, predestined failure on par with the same efforts and outcome in the Vietnam war, and for the same reasons.”
While there were many reasons for the Afghan government to fail after Biden withdrew U.S. troops in a disaster that sparked his drop in public approval polls, the audit seized on one key theme. The Afghans didn’t believe Washington would ever leave.
“The Afghan government failed to recognize that the United States would actually leave. Over nearly 20 years and three U.S. presidencies, the United States had vacillated on the issue of military withdrawal,” said the report titled “Why the Afghan Government Collapsed.”
It added, “The result was that the Afghan government was fundamentally unprepared to manage the fight against the Taliban as the United States military and its contractors withdrew.”
Over the past two decades, SIGAR and auditor John F. Sopko have released grim reports of the war efforts, easily finding examples of fraud, corruption, and waste. They often operated under dangerous conditions, sometimes with little protection, to develop their regular reviews.
Being one of their last reports, the office was short in its conclusions about the campaign started after the 9/11 terror attacks hatched in Afghan caves.
The conclusion: “Whether a different outcome could have been achieved is a question for history. For now, what stands out most is the significance of the tragedy that unfolded over 20 years. Before the Republic’s collapse, SIGAR had identified approximately $19 billion of waste, fraud, and abuse in our published reports and closed investigations. But lives lost were the far greater cost. Overall, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan — one goal of which was to help the Afghan government become sufficiently legitimate and capable — resulted in the deaths of 2,456 American and 1,144 allied service members. An additional 20,666 U.S. troops were wounded. Afghans, meanwhile, faced an even heavier toll. At least 66,000 Afghan troops were killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians were killed and at least 75,000 were injured — both likely significant underestimations. If there is one overarching lesson to be learned from the totality of this tragedy, it is that any future U.S.”