Photo: US Senate Photographic Studio

American Watchdog Warns of Taliban’s Diversion of American Aid

The Taliban is interfering in and benefiting from a substantial portion of US aid to Afghanistan by putting pressure on US partners to hire its allies and companies, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconciliation (SIGAR), John Sopko.  Mr. Sopko was testifying before a Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, November 14.

In March of this year, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee asked  SIGAR to investigate how the US funds are spent in Afghanistan under the Taliban. SIGAR was also asked to assess the risks of channeling most US humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through international organizations and to determine whether adequate safeguards are in place to protect the $3.5 billion of Afghanistan’s central bank assets that were transferred to the Afghan Fund after the collapse of the republic government.

Mr. Sopko said that all 39 experts and aid practitioners, including UN officials, spoke of their “first-hand experience with Taliban diversion or interference in US assistance.”

Concerns about the Taliban’s diversion of humanitarian aid arise as Afghanistan faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The UN estimates that 70% of Afghanistan’s population, over 29 million people, rely on donor-led humanitarian assistance. Although the United States remains the largest donor to the plan, having donated over $400 million this year, UN programs have had to decrease aid. The World Food Programme (WFP), for example, was forced to stop supplying monthly food assistance to 10 million people this year. The situation will only worsen this winter as weather isolates rural areas from aid services.

According to SIGAR, although aid diversion was an issue during the previous republican government in Afghanistan, the diversion of humanitarian assistance by the Taliban is of particular concern given the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s terrorist ties. “Unlike with the prior Afghan governments, diverted funds now may fund terrorist activities in addition to enriching the pockets of corrupt officials,” Sopko emphasized.

This is not the first time that SIGAR has raised concerns about the Taliban’s interference with humanitarian aid and its diversion to benefit its allies. In April, Sopko told the committee that he cannot say for certain whether US assistance is currently funding the Taliban. “It is critical that our assistance not be diverted by the Taliban,” he said. “Unfortunately, as I sit here today, I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer, that we are not currently funding the Taliban, nor can I assure you that the Taliban are not diverting the money we are sending from the intended recipients, which are the poor Afghan people.”

Michael McCaul, Chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country is no better off today than when the US first entered. “The Taliban who now control Afghanistan, are terrorists who impose edicts to oppress the Afghan people. They abuse women and steal humanitarian aid from starving Afghans.”   “Unfortunately we know that the Taliban are engaged in theft and diversion of this fund to serve their maligned purposes.” He criticized the Biden administration for pursuing a policy of engagement at all costs and failing to hold the Taliban accountable for their crimes. 

When deciding whether to provide future aid to Afghanistan, Sopko advised, that the US government should consider the financial risk of losing a significant amount of US humanitarian and development assistance, the security risk of US funds reaching a government with long-standing ties to terrorist groups, and the political risk of funding a historic enemy of the United States.