The US military created an illusion of success in Afghanistan by handling tasks it was supposed to train Afghan troops to do, report says
- A new watchdog report details how Afghanistan's security forces collapsed in August 2021.
- The report pins blame on multiple governments, armies, and agencies, including the US military.
Desperate to leave Afghanistan, the US armed forces often handled tasks that they were supposed to be training Afghan troops to do, allowing the US military to create an illusion of success, a new report has found.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a US government oversight agency, published a report this week that details how the Afghan security forces fell apart leading up to the US military's 2021 withdrawal from the country and the Taliban's subsequent seizure of power.
In its report, SIGAR said the collapse of Afghanistan's national security forces — also known as Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) — was a long time coming and started well before the Taliban blitzed across the country in summer 2021. Despite two decades and $90 billion in international support, the US and its partners and the Afghan government ultimately failed to build an "independent and self-sustainable" ANDSF, the report found.
Among the many reasons for this, SIGAR found, was that the US lacked the capabilities — like organization, policy, and resources — to actually develop another country's army. For example, US trainers and advisors were often inexperienced and were sent on short tours of duty, and the US had flawed metrics of evaluating the performance of the ANDSF.
"Reflecting a continuing desire to get out of Afghanistan, the US military worked to create the appearance of success by performing the tasks it was supposed to be training the Afghan military to do: supply, logistics, evacuation, intelligence, maintenance, and procurement activities," the report said.
This was not the only issue that SIGAR found with the US approach toward building up the ANDSF. Washington lacked the political will and effort to actually develop an Afghan security force in a "war-torn and impoverished country," which is a monumental task. For this reason, the ANDSF couldn't work independently and faced unrealistic milestones for its development. "The eventual collapse of the ANDSF was predictable," the report said.
SIGAR noted that another contributing factor was the February 2020 peace agreement between the US and the Taliban, which created a feeling of abandonment and signaled the eventual end of the ANDSF. Additionally, the report placed blame on the Afghan government, which it said was riddled with corruption that trickled down into the military.
"Low troop morale, something the US military did not take into account, was one of the main contributors to the ANDSF's collapse," the report said. "However, nothing affected morale more than the realization in February 2021 that US military forces were leaving."
The Taliban went on to orchestrate a lightning-fast campaign across Afghanistan that resulted in the militant group's power grab in August 2021 — marking its second rule of the country. The chaotic and messy withdrawal of US and NATO forces that month — which left scores dead — stirred intense criticism of US action.