SIGAR unable to account for all money spent in Afghanistan

Children waiting in a queue to receive food in aid in Kabul on January 18, 2022.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, said in a report to Congress that he was unable to provide a full accounting of the American government’s spending due to the noncooperation of several US government agencies.

In his statement to Congress, Sopko wrote: “SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this US government spending due to the noncooperation of several US government agencies.

He said the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers the majority of US government spending for Afghanistan, and the Treasury Department refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department was selective in the information it provided.

Sopko said the United States remains Afghanistan’s single largest donor since the Taliban takeover after the Biden Administration’s withdrawal in August 2021.

The US provided more than $1.1 billion to support the Afghan people during this time.

‘Stifling the media’

In this quarter’s report, SIGAR also assessed the media situation in Afghanistan and noted that prior to Taliban takeover in August last year, the media in the country was a “beacon of democracy” whereas it is now being stifled.

The report stated that Taliban restrictions, combined with a dire economic crisis, has pushed the Afghan media sector to near collapse.

Citing Reporters Without Borders, SIGAR noted that Afghanistan has lost almost 40% of its media outlets and 60% of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.

They also reported that 231 media outlets have closed in Afghanistan since August 2021, and 60% of journalists have lost their jobs (around 6,400 people), including 84% of women journalists.

According to SIGAR, “without long-term, institutional support to independent journalists inside and outside of the country, it is not clear that Afghanistan’s media will be able to withstand the Taliban’s efforts to totally control information about Afghanistan.”

Humanitarian situation remains dire

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remained dire this quarter, with over half of the population, an estimated 24.4 million people, in need of assistance, SIGAR reported adding that nearly half the population continues to employ crisis coping
strategies, such as rationing out food or skipping meals, to meet their basic needs.

“Households headed by women remain especially vulnerable, with an estimated 96% facing insufficient food consumption amid Taliban restrictions on the movements of women and girls,” the report read.

SIGAR stated that for 10 consecutive months, more than 90% of the Afghan population experienced insufficient food consumption, as per a June report by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).

All 34 provinces in Afghanistan are facing crisis or emergency levels of acute food insecurity, SIGAR stated. In total, an estimated 18.9 million Afghans face potentially life-threatening levels of hunger—including nearly six million facing near-famine conditions—from June to November 2022.

Repression of women and girls

UNICEF estimates that over three million girls who previously attended secondary school have been denied their right to education in the year since the Taliban took power. UNICEF estimates that the Taliban ban on girls’ secondary education may end up costing the Afghan economy up to $5.4 billion in lifetime earnings potential, SIGAR stated.

On October 11, the State Department announced visa restrictions for current or former Taliban members, members of non-state security groups, and other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of and violence against Afghan women and girls, the report noted.

The report also took into account the new fund for Afghanistan’s frozen assets, stating that on September 14, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and State jointly announced the establishment of the Fund for the Afghan People—also known as “The Afghan Fund”— a financial mechanism for the protection, preservation, and targeted disbursement of $3.5 billion from the frozen Afghan central bank assets held in US financial institutions to support economic stability in Afghanistan.

Citing World Bank findings, SIGAR also noted in its report that Afghanistan’s economy contracted by an estimated 20% since August 2021 – while potentially having lost as many as 700,000 jobs. A US Institute for Peace analyst warned, there is “no prospect for the economy to resume high growth let alone recover to pre-2021 levels in the foreseeable future.”

According to the World Bank, the Taliban collected an estimated 104 billion AFN (around $1.2 billion) in total revenue between December 22, 2021, and August 2022. Taxes at the borders comprised 57% of the total revenue collected up to August 2022, with revenue from inland sources accounting for the remaining 43%.

SIGAR also noted that the Taliban Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs declared August 15, the anniversary of the day the Taliban captured Kabul, a public holiday. A brief Taliban announcement said, “August 15 is a national holiday in the country to mark the first anniversary of the victory of the Afghan jihad against America and its allies’ occupation.”