US watchdog report details Afghan military collapse

In a briefing with then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on April 9, 2021, security officials delivered important news: The US was planning to announce a full military withdrawal. But Ghani ignored the information after the then vice president told him it was an “American conspiracy.”

The briefing turned out to be astonishingly accurate. Five days later, President Joe Biden announced his decision to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan on May 1.

The episode, described in an interim report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, underscores the mistrust and dysfunction that permeated the Afghan government prior to last summer’s collapse.

The country’s military was largely unable to sustain itself due to the loss of US air strikes in support of the Afghans, the report said.

Overnight, “98 percent of US air strikes had stopped,” a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan told SIGAR.

In 2019, the US carried out 7,423 airstrikes, but in 2020 they carried out only 1,631, almost half before the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020.

Without US support for offensive operations, the Afghan military was forced into largely defensive positions across the country. Under the agreement with the Taliban, US planes could not target Taliban groups waiting more than 500 meters away, giving the Taliban an advantage in attacking Afghan military units.

The US deal with the Taliban also created moral problems within the Afghan military and police. The report quotes an Afghan army commander as saying the average soldier became more prone to accepting deals with the Taliban because of low morale.

After the collapse of the Afghan government in August, US military leaders repeatedly blamed a lack of will to fight and lead, even as the US spent more than 20 years on war and nation-building.

“We have an Afghan force of some 300,000 highly trained and equipped – incredibly well equipped – a force greater than the militaries of many of our NATO allies,” Biden said on Aug. 16, adding: “We gave them every opportunity to determine their own future, what we couldn’t offer them was the will to fight for that future.”

Image: Afghanistan conflict
Afghan militias gather with their weapons in Herat on July 9 to support Afghan security forces against the Taliban at the home of Afghan warlord and former leader of the mujahideen Ismail Khan.Hoshang Hashimi / AFP via Getty Images file

The US-Taliban peace deal sparked both distrust and uncertainty among Afghans, the report said, in part because many sections were not made public or even shared with the Afghan government.

A former Afghan general said the US essentially took on the role of referee and saw the Afghan government and the Taliban fighting in what he considered “a sick game”. The lack of information also allowed the Taliban to spread propaganda and misinformation about the deal, including by convincing local police and military units that the US had handed over areas to the Taliban and that they should leave their posts.

The report also found that the Afghan government was blind to the army’s logistical and support shortcomings, with a senior Afghan official saying Ghani’s closest advisers were unaware that their army could not support itself until Biden announced that all troops would leave. .

The report provides a snapshot of the collapse of Afghan security forces. The final version is expected this fall.

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