The United States sought to build “stable, democratic, accountable” Afghan governance institutions, but it ultimately failed, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) concluded in a report published on Wednesday.
SIGAR pointed the finger at the US but also laid blame on former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who it said governed through “a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists, destabilising the government at a critical juncture”.
This is not the first time the US watchdog has blamed Washington and Ghani for the return of the Taliban to power. In a report published in May, the watchdog said the withdrawal of US troops prompted the collapse of the Afghan army, while another report released days after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021 blamed the US’s failure to “implement a coherent strategy” over 20 years in Afghanistan.
The report says the US exit from Afghanistan resulted in the Taliban regaining control of the country and triggering an exodus of foreign nationals and workers, along with Afghans who worked with international aid groups as well as the US military.
Despite some progress with capacity building, the US failed to resolve issues of corruption; “to legitimise the Afghan government through democratic elections; and to adequately monitor and evaluate the outcomes and impacts of its efforts”, the report said.
SIGAR identified six factors that contributed to the collapse of the Afghan government. These included the failure of the Afghan government to recognise that the US would actually leave, the exclusion of the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks, which weakened it; the Afghan government’s insistence that the Taliban would somehow be integrated into the country, and the Taliban’s unwillingness to compromise.
The Taliban took over Afghanistan after a blistering offensive, reaching Kabul on August 15, 2021 and forcing President Ghani to flee the country.
Moreover, “the Afghan government’s high level of centralisation, endemic corruption, and struggle to attain legitimacy were long-term contributors to its eventual collapse”, the report said.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks and after accusing the Taliban, which was in power, of harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
US forces swiftly took over the country, but they struggled to defeat a guerrilla warfare campaign by the Taliban in the following 20 years.
With the war growing increasingly unpopular in the US, former President Donald Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban in 2020 that would ensure the withdrawal of the American military from the country.
The deal also stipulated that Afghan authorities would “prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international ‘terrorist’ groups or individuals against the security of the United States and its allies” and called for “intra-Afghan dialogue” between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.
US President Joe Biden, who came to office in January 2021, pushed on with the withdrawal plan, stressing that Afghan forces had the numbers, training and equipment to fight off the Taliban. But in early August 2021, with the US withdrawal deadline approaching, provincial capitals began falling to the Taliban with little resistance from Afghan security forces.
Chris Mason, assistant professor of national security at the US Army War College, was quoted in the SIGAR report as saying, “US 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.”
“The fact that the United States had supported Afghanistan for 20 years and that Afghanistan had been highly dependent on external support for much of its modern history, made it all the harder for Afghan politicians and leaders to envision a future without such support,” Mason said.