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Inspector General Report Describes Intelligence Failings in Afghanistan

August 18, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Taliban fighters patrol in Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Department officials on Wednesday afternoon acknowledged the kind of surprise about the fall of Afghanistan mentioned in a new inspector general’s report.

“No, I did not see a collapse of an army of that size in 11 days,” Army Gen. Mark Milley said about the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

He was updating the media during a Pentagon briefing on the evacuation of Americans and refugees from the airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. About 5,000 people have been evacuated so far.

The U.S. military put nearly $83 billion into training and equipping the Afghan military and police. 

The more than 300,000-strong Afghan security force that President Joe Biden assured Americans could defend their country fell apart with a minimal fight.

A Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s report released this week describes the U.S. military’s surprise as part of a pattern of ill-conceived U.S. objectives in Afghanistan. 

The inspector general’s report says the U.S. government underestimated the time needed to rebuild the country and misunderstood the culture in a way that contributed to America’s longest war.

“If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that can sustain itself and pose little threat to U.S. national security interests, the overall picture is bleak,” wrote John Sopko, the special inspector general, in his report.

The report questioned whether the 20 years of U.S. presence in Afghanistan was “commensurate with the U.S. investment or sustainable after a U.S. drawdown.”

Since 2001, the United States has spent $2.26 trillion in Afghanistan, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Biden defended his decision to pull out of Afghanistan in a televised speech this week. He said that rebuilding Afghanistan was not the primary mission so much as responding to terrorism that included the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

He also said the war already spanned four presidential administrations and that he did not want to pass it on to a fifth president.

“The buck stops with me,” Biden said.

Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan and the chaotic withdrawal that followed are drawing sharp rebukes from some Republicans in Congress.

The inspector general’s report drew parallels to the American lack of preparation for the withdrawal from Vietnam.

“After all, declining to prepare after Vietnam did not prevent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; instead, it ensured they would become quagmires,” the report said.

Despite Taliban reassurances of a peaceful transfer, the inspector general’s report said the loss of Afghanistan to the U.S. enemy creates a risk of further terrorism.

“There will likely be times in the future when insurgent control or influence over a particular area or population is deemed an imminent threat to U.S. interests,” the report said. “If the U.S. government does not prepare for that likelihood, it may once again try to build the necessary knowledge and capacity on the fly.”

The report blamed part of the problem on culture clash, which led U.S. planners to misinterpret Afghan politics.

“U.S. officials rarely had even a mediocre understanding of the Afghan environment, much less how it was responding to U.S. interventions,” the report said.

One of the misunderstandings was how the two decades of civil war, Soviet occupation and Taliban brutality that preceded the U.S. invasion would complicate reconstruction, the inspector general said.

The United States improved the quality of health care, maternal health and education in Afghanistan but “the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious,” the report said.

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