SIGAR chief warns of terrorism financing risks in US aid to Afghanistan

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, delivered a stern warning about the risk of terrorism financing using American aid to Afghanistan during a meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives.

The focus of the discussion was the aftermath of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the current situation in the country.

Sopko expressed grave concerns about the possible diversion of funds intended for Afghanistan, emphasizing the growing threat from terrorist groups, the deteriorating human rights situation, and the increasing influence of the Taliban. The Inspector General urged vigilance to prevent parts of Washington’s aid from inadvertently funding these organizations.

During the committee meeting, Sopko raised alarms about the Taliban’s interference in international organizations, particularly the United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He highlighted instances where the Taliban pressured these entities to hire their affiliates, issue contracts to Taliban-affiliated companies, and collaborate exclusively with certain NGOs.

“The Taliban pressures the UN and other NGOs to hire their members, relatives, and allies to help distribute donor-funded assistance. The Taliban pressures the UN and other NGOs to issue contracts to Taliban-affiliated companies,” Sopko stated. “Such interference and diversion of US assistance are not unique to the Taliban.”

Committee members expressed serious concerns about the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, as well as their collaboration with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban. Michael McCaul from the Congress Foreign Affairs Committee criticized the withdrawal process, stating, “This administration’s deadly and chaotic withdrawal was ill-conceived from the very beginning. There were no plans for enduring peace and the support of the Afghan people.”

Former Afghan forces general Sami Sadat, speaking at the meeting, claimed that Afghanistan had become a safe haven for terrorists, contributing to instability in the Middle East and potentially supporting groups like Hamas.

“The consequences for the region and the world are great as we can see in the recent unfortunate events in the Middle East, the rise of the Taliban has given a new life to groups like Hamas. Today, 16,000 al Qaeda terrorists are traveling in our country. Their leaders move freely between Afghanistan and Iran along a safe terror corridor,” Sadat said.

Despite the Taliban’s assurances that Afghanistan poses no threat, concerns persist. Sopko emphasized the need to acknowledge missteps made over four presidential administrations and ten congresses, irrespective of party affiliations.

“As discussions on the consequences of the Taliban’s rise continued, Sopko emphasized the need to acknowledge missteps made over four presidential administrations and ten congresses in both Republican and Democratic leadership.”

The concerns raised during the committee meeting underscore ongoing challenges in the region, with recent statements from Islamabad alleging the use of Afghan soil, under Taliban administration, against Pakistan in specific instances.