(This post is from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
A top federal watchdog on Wednesday delivered an extensive speech on the dour outlook for Afghanistan’s ability to govern itself in the medium term.
Appearing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko stated that “Afghan self-sustainment of its security institutions is long way away. … The ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] will need our help for the foreseeable future.”
The U.S. military formally ceased its combat role in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. There are now about 7,000 American troops left in the country, as well as another 6,000 from partner nations, with a mission to “train, advise and assist” the ANDSF. The Obama administration has said it plans to withdraw most of the remaining U.S. troops by the end of 2016.
Sopko pointed out that Congress has appropriated $110 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, more than was spent on the Marshall Plan after World War II. And of the $110 billion, said Sopko, $62.5 billion has gone to Afghan security institutions, yet the most recent assessment by the U.S. military showed that the country’s army “has not achieved the highest rating level of ‘sustaining’ in any category assessed.”
During the 14 years of U.S. and NATO presence, the Afghan government has never even implemented a “verifiable, centralized personnel and payroll system to accurately track ANDSF numbers” — so there’s no way to know something as basic as how many Afghan soldiers and police there actually are.
Under the current agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, the U.S. has “an obligation to seek funds on a yearly basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of ANDSF.” While the Afghan government theoretically will ramp up funding of the ANDSF until it is fully funding its security forces by itself by 2024, this is “unlikely” to happen, said Sopko.
Sopko also explained that he’s concerned about the ability of Afghan government ministries to function without support. At the Defense and Interior Ministries, Sopko said, “only four offices at those ministries were deemed ‘capable of autonomous operations’ while 21 were ‘capable of executing functions with Coalition oversight only.'”
At the end of his speech, Sopko drew a possible parallel between the American and Soviet occupations of Afghanistan, and called on Washington to learn from Moscow’s experience, particularly in the context of a fiscal drawdowns.
“Although not exactly comparable, we must recall that the Soviet-client regime in Kabul collapsed in 1992 less than a year after the Soviets stopped cash and fuel deliveries,” he said.
Sopko also suggested that the White House needn’t look beyond its own archives to understand the important role economic assistance plays when one country wants to maintain influence in another, despite a military withdrawal.
“South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese regulars in April 1975 after a drastic reduction of U.S. aid,” he added, also comparing Afghan forces to “government forces in Iraq, Vietnam, and Algeria.”
Sam Knight is a writer and reporter living in Washington, D.C. He is the co-founder of the watchdog news site The District Sentinel.
Photo: A soldier with the Afghan National Army (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
This post has been corrected to say that the Afghan government will theoretically be fully funding its security force by 2024, not 2014.