Corruption was chief in undermining the US-led mission in Afghanistan, SIGAR chief says

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), has said that corruption was among the key factors of failure in Afghanistan.

America’s unrealistic timelines, poor coordination and execution of aid, and contribution to corruption significantly undermined the US-led mission in Afghanistan that not only averted people from the mission but also strengthened the Taliban, Sopko said.

Speaking at a conference addressing lessons learned from Afghanistan at the Royal United Services Institute, RUSI, in London on Monday, indicating that corruption was chief to the challenges in Afghanistan.

“Corruption undermined the entire US mission in Afghanistan,” Sopko said.

“Not only did we lose a lot of money to the Taliban and other insurgencies, but we also lost the morale of the Afghan people and the Afghan government, and turned many people away from the coalition.”

He added that the US contributed to the corruption because they sent a “fantastic” amount of money “so quickly” to a poor country that was providing more than 100% of its gross domestic product without effective coordination and execution.

Sopko highlighted America’s politically-driven “unrealistic timelines for success” as another major shortcoming.

He indicated that the US “did not really understand” the country or how it worked and substantial efforts were mainly focused on what their timelines said with politicians in Washington rather than focusing on the realities on the ground.

“We do not want to be honest and as a result, we learned how to do the wrong thing perfectly by checking boxes. We focused on inputs but never looked at the outcomes,” he said.

While stressing that many would forget the Afghanistan experience, Sopko stressed that if lessons are not learned, “you are doomed to repeat the mistakes.”

Sir Hugh Bayley, a commissioner of the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact, told the conference that the West failed to understand local traditions, culture, or capacity in Afghanistan, which undermined its aid assistance on the ground.

Bayley said that the UK government paid inadequate attention to its locally recruited staff “who spoke the languages, understood the culture and who were free to mix and mingle in the local community, and who were crucially there for a long time and had much better memories of what had been tried before.”

Moreover, he stated that there was a major “coherence” challenge in strategic objectives between the US and the coalition, including the UK.

He indicated that despite the UK efforts calling on the US for a “different political approach”, the former could not persuade the Americans to shift approaches and to broaden the base of a centralized Pashtun-focused government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban seized power on August 15, 2021, as US and NATO forces were desperately withdrawing from Afghanistan. Since then, Afghanistan is grappling with multi-front crises. The humanitarian situation has particularly worsened, making it one of the world’s most critical crises. Over two-thirds of the population, approximately 28.8 million people, now require urgent humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian organizations estimate that $2.26 billion is needed between June and December 2023 to provide essential multi-sectoral assistance to 20 million people.