Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko slammed the U.S. Department of State and USAID during a House Oversight and Reform hearing on Wednesday, accusing the agencies of allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to be diverted to the Taliban and stonewalling his inquiries into the situation.
According to Sopko, the United States has provided more than $8 billion in assistance to the Afghan people since the U.S. withdrawal, but due to “a lack of aggressive oversight controls,” unknown quantities of U.S. dollars could be ending up in the hands of the Taliban.
The GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee heard from four Inspectors General Wednesday morning during its first hearing on “the Biden Administration’s Disastrous Withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“While I agree and we all agree Afghanistan faces dire humanitarian and economic situation, it is critical that our assistance not be diverted by the Taliban,” Sopko declared in his opening statement.
“Unfortunately, as I sit here today, I can not assure this committee or the American taxpayer 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,” the SIGAR added.
“As I sit here today, I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban.”
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko gives alarming testimony regarding U.S. funding in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/BfXl6F32Dq
— Oversight Committee (@GOPoversight) April 19, 2023
Sopko complained that his oversight efforts have been hampered by the Biden State Department and USAID’s “failure to fully cooperate with SIGAR audits and other inquiries.” This lack of cooperation, he said, was unprecedented in the nearly 12 years that he had been the SIGAR.
The Department of State, USAID, the UN and other agencies have refused to give him “basic information that we or any other oversight body would need to ensure safe stewardship of tax dollars,” Sopko testified.
“More troubling, State and USAID have instructed their employees not to talk to SIGAR, and in one recent instance, State told one of its contractors not to participate in a SIGAR audit,” he added. “I note in passing that DOD’s refusal to respond to SIGAR’s inquiries in 2022 caused months of delay in responding to this committee’s requests.”
Sopko told the committee that “despite this lack of cooperation, SIGAR continues to carry out its mission.”
Today, as I mentioned, SIGAR is releasing its 2023 High-Risk List to Congress, outlining five serious risks to the more than $8 billion the United States has provided or otherwise made available to the Afghan people since the U.S. withdrawal. This includes U.S.-authorized transfers of $3.5 billion from the Afghan central bank reserves to a new international fund created with the hope of stabilizing Afghanistan’s economy and, once certain conditions are met, recapitalizing their SIGAR 23-22-TY central bank.
Another $2 billion has been appropriated for humanitarian and development efforts—60 percent of which is food aid, with the rest going to other types of humanitarian aid and programs focusing on healthcare, agriculture, civil society, and human rights. These efforts are not being operated on the ground by U.S. government employees but rather, implemented through various NGOs and international organizations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF. Lastly, DOD has obligated nearly $2.8 billion to transport, house, and feed Afghan allies evacuated from Afghanistan
Sopko said that when SIGAR asked State how much revenue the Taliban has been collecting “from the UN, NGOs or other groups delivering international aid, shockingly, State’s response was that it didn’t know.”
Similarly, the UN does not provide State or SIGAR detailed accounts of its expenditures, nor that of its partners. We believe this lack of information makes it impossible to make informed decisions about program effectiveness. Meanwhile, Taliban restrictions on civil society organizations and the media reduced the availability of critical data USAID’s monitoring approach relies upon.
Sopko warned that “unless this changes, we will face another summer of delays and noncooperation,” even as other House committees request SIGAR’s reports on U.S. assistance to the Afghan people, including, whether U.S. funds are benefitting the Taliban.
“This will of course require the full cooperation of State, USAID the UN and all of their implementing partners and subcontractors,” he said.
When Rep. Mike Turner noted that his requests for information from the Biden regime were being ignored too, Sopko quipped, “Welcome to my world.”
The Biden Admin isn’t providing responses to Congress and the Inspector General about the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“I have not received a response to my letter to the President. Have you received responses from your letters?”- @RepMikeTurner
“Welcome to my world.”- IG John Sopko pic.twitter.com/pGnvmxM8n4
— Oversight Committee (@GOPoversight) April 19, 2023
Sopko also said the Trump and Biden administrations shared the blame for the disastrous outcome in Afghanistan.
“The decision by two U.S. presidents to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan fundamentally altered every subsequent decision by U.S. government agencies, the Ghani administration, and the Taliban,” the IG testified. “Actions taken by each ultimately combined to accelerate the collapse of the ANDSF in August 2021.”
While Trump administration’s decision to sign the Doha agreement and the Biden administration’s decision to follow through with the withdrawal were immediate factors precipitating the collapse of the Afghan government and its security forces, those decisions had antecedents that stretched to the beginning of the mission in 2001. For example: the Doha agreement indeed undermined the morale of the ANDSF, but that morale had been made fragile in the first place because of endemic corruption, which U.S. and Afghan officials either
ignored or enabled for years. The United States sought to build stable, democratic, representative, gender-sensitive, and accountable Afghan governance institutions. But as SIGAR has repeatedly reported, it failed.
You can watch the full hearing here.
During the House Oversight hearing today, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that the administration has been transparent and “consistently provided updates and information” to the Inspectors General.
When asked to respond, Sopko denied that the Biden regime has been responsive.
“I can’t talk about the whole administration, but I can talk about State and [US]AID, and DoD, and no they haven’t.”
“Have the consistently provided updates and information?” House Oversight Chairman Rep. Comer (R-Ky.) asked.
“No,” Sopko answered flatly.
I asked IG Sopko whether that was true.
Roll the tape and get the Pinocchios ready. pic.twitter.com/yi5NyE9xB5
— Rep. James Comer (@RepJamesComer) April 19, 2023