SIGAR blames Pentagon, ex-Afghan government for ANDSF collapse

A former ANDSF member in Helmand province in 2016.

A new report by US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says the US Department of Defense contributed to the sudden collapse of the Afghan security forces in August 2021 partly due to poor planning and lack of accountability over at least some of the billions of dollars in weapons and equipment it provided.

SIGAR also says the Pentagon did not cooperate fully with its investigation.

The report discloses that American troops left behind a total of $7.2 billion in aircraft, missiles, communications gear and other military equipment for the Taliban to potentially use.

Citing a Pentagon report to US Congress in March 2022, SIGAR said the equipment includes at least 78 aircraft worth $923.3 million, 9,524 air-to-ground munitions valued at $6.54 million, over 40,000 vehicles, more than 300,000 weapons, and nearly all night vision, surveillance, communications, and biometric equipment provided to the ANDSF were left behind.

The report, mandated by Congress after the sudden fall of Kabul when US forces left the country, said the State Department was also unresponsive to some of its requests for information to help it figure out why the US-funded Afghan military crumbled so quickly, allowing the Taliban to take over the country.

The report says that since 2002, the United States allocated nearly $90 billion in security assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), with the goal of developing an independent, self-sustaining force capable of combating both internal and external threats.

Former ANDSF members. Photo: Former ministry of defense.

After the ANDSF collapse of 2021, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Armed Services Committee directed SIGAR to find out what happened, and to provide an audit of all U.S.-provided equipment to Afghan forces.

In the new report, it provides numerous details of what it says were lapses in oversight, bad planning and other shortcomings on the part of the US military.

Pointing at the shortcomings, the report says that the US set the stage for the Afghanistan government collapse long before the August 2021 meltdown, by failing to create “an independent and self-sustainable ANDSF, despite 20 years and $90 billion of international support.”

Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on US military forces, the decision to withdraw all US military personnel and dramatically reduce US support to the ANDSF “destroyed the morale of Afghan soldiers and police.”

The agreement signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha under the Trump administration in 2020, especially, resulted in a sense of abandonment within the Afghan government and its military and police forces, which “set in motion a series of events crucial to understanding” the country’s collapse, the report says.

Even though air strikes had proven to be perhaps the most “critical force multiplier” in fighting the Taliban, the 2020 withdrawal agreement limited them, which “left the ANDSF without a key advantage in keeping the Taliban at bay.”

The US also decided to withdraw on-site contract maintenance from Afghanistan in May 2021, which reduced the availability of aircraft needed to move stockpiles of US-provided weapons and supplies around the country, the report says, adding that as a result, Afghan defense and security units, “complained that they lacked enough ammunition, food, water, and other military equipment to sustain military engagements against the Taliban.”

“The Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of State declined to review that interim draft, denied us access to their staff, and mostly declined to answer requests for information,” the SIGAR report says. “This limited SIGAR’s ability to perform this evaluation.”

SIGAR added that it offered DoD, State, and USAID the opportunity to review and comment on the final report.

“USAID had no comments. State deferred to DOD for comments. In comments to SIGAR, DOD noted that the report has ‘important insights’ but also disputed certain conclusions,” said the report.

In its report, SIGAR said it “strongly disagrees with DOD’s characterization of their engagement on this report,” saying it only provided limited responses to SIGAR’s request for information “and missed every deadline for responding to SIGAR’s questions or for providing feedback to vetting drafts of this report.”

In it’s report, SIGAR also blames the former government for the collapse of the ANDSF.

Taliban fighters near a military vehicle at Kabul Airport on August 31, a day after full withdrawal of US and coalition forces from the airport.

SIGAR said the Afghan government “failed to develop a national security strategy,” especially following the withdrawal of US forces.

Instead, the report said, former President Ashraf Ghani frequently changed defense and security force leaders and appointed loyalists who politicized the ANSDF.

These actions, and constant turnover, weakened chains of command, morale, and trust in the ANDSF, the watchdog organization said.

The watchdog finds in its report that no one country or agency had ownership of the ANDSF development mission over the years. As a result, the NATO-led coalition and temporary organizations like the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ended up being staffed “with a constantly changing rotation of military and civilian advisors” that impeded continuity and institutional memory, the report says.

The report says that advisors were often poorly trained and inexperienced for their mission as well and that these shortcomings “undermined the US government’s ability to build relationships with and capacity among Afghan forces.”