The chaotic US withdrawal is just the latest in a string of political crises the US president faces.
The United States “struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy” in Afghanistan and the overall picture there is “bleak”, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report (PDF) released on Tuesday.
John Sopko, the special inspector general, wrote that any gains “in life expectancy, the mortality of children under five, GDP [gross domestic product] per capita, and literacy rates” during the years-long US mission were not “commensurate with the U.S. investment or sustainable after a U.S. drawdown”.
The withdrawal has drawn mounting criticism in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of the country, which led to chaotic scenes at the airport in the capital, Kabul, where thousands of Afghans had gathered in a desperate effort to flee.
Critics have slammed Biden’s handling of the evacuations, but on Monday he steadfastly defended his decision to withdraw all troops, insisting that recent events in Afghanistan “reinforce that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision”.
Biden also stressed that the US mission was never about nation-building, but rather aimed at “preventing a terrorist attack on [the] American homeland”.
But in his report on Tuesday, Sopko wrote of the US mission: “If the goal was to rebuild and leave a country that could sustain itself and pose little threat to US national security interests, the overall picture is bleak.”
The SIGAR post was created “to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities” and the special inspector general periodically conducts audits and investigations as part of that mandate.
Tuesday’s report accuses US leaders of not fully comprehending Afghanistan’s political dynamics and said their priorities were influenced by their own politics.
“U.S. officials prioritized their own political preferences for what Afghanistan’s reconstruction should look like, rather than what they could realistically achieve,” the report said.
“U.S. officials created explicit timelines in the mistaken belief that a decision in Washington could transform the calculus of complex Afghan institutions, powerbrokers, and communities contested by the Taliban.”
Sopko also had harsh words about the US government, describing bureaucratic disarray, counterproductive military and civilian personnel policies and practices that led to “one of the most significant failures of the mission”: billions of dollars “wasted” on unsustainable institutions and infrastructure projects.
“The U.S. government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly,” the report found. “Ignorance of prevailing social, cultural, and political contexts in Afghanistan has been a significant contributing factor to failures at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.”