Afghanistan Watchdog: The Information Flow from Agencies Is Improving, But Could Still Be Better
Three federal agencies maintain they are being responsive to the watchdog.
Federal agencies’ sharing of information with the Afghanistan watchdog has improved in recent months, but some issues persist, according to the watchdog’s office.
Over the summer, John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, blasted the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for their “sudden refusal to cooperate” following more than a decade of working with his office. The office was requesting information related to the collapse of the Afghanistan government in August 2021. Then in October a top SIGAR official said since summer cooperation from the agencies had only decreased. In both cases, the agencies pushed back and said they are committed to assisting the watchdog, but had concerns about its statutory jurisdiction. The watchdog has also alleged noncompliance from the Defense Department.
“The flow of information from some of these agencies has been improving, but there are still some problems,” a SIGAR spokesperson told Government Executive earlier this week. “Several committees have expressed interest in the status of this issue, and we will report to them in briefings as requested.”
The fiscal 2023 government appropriations package, signed into law in late December, requires the secretary of State and USAID administrator to “resolve any disputes related to SIGAR's ongoing investigatory and audit work, consistent with prior fiscal years.” Also, the IG, secretary and administrator “shall brief the committees on appropriations on the status of cooperation not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of the act and every 90 days thereafter until September 30, 2023.”
A Democratic aide for the Senate Appropriations Committee told Government Executive that “the committee is working with the relevant parties now to schedule the briefing soon.”
This week, the watchdog issued a report saying the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in August 2021 was predictable in part because the “United States lacked the organizational, agency-level, and inter-agency doctrine, policies and dedicated resources to initiate the wholesale development of another nation’s army.”
The watchdog also stated in the report that for the interim version, released in May 2022, Defense and State officials denied IG officials access to their staff and declined requests for information, which limited the IG’s ability to do the evaluation.
“In December 2022, SIGAR offered DoD, State, and USAID the opportunity to review and comment on this final report,” the report continued. “State deferred to DoD for comments and has continued to raise questions about SIGAR’s jurisdiction after the Afghan government’s collapse. USAID had no comments. In comments to SIGAR, DoD noted that the report has ‘important insights’ but also disputed certain conclusions.”
Then in SIGAR’s most recent quarterly report, published on January 30, the watchdog said that it hasn’t been able to report on some of the Afghan reconstruction costs because the Defense Department has not provided the relevant requested information, despite repeated requests since 2018. “Therefore, SIGAR reporting does not include costs of training and advising programs such as the Train Advise Assist Commands, the Security Force Assistance Brigades, the Ministry of Defense Advisors program, the Afghanistan Hands Program, and the DoD Expeditionary Civilian program; support provided to members of the NATO Resolute Support Mission; and certain advisory and support costs of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and its successor, the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office-Afghanistan.”
A U.S. defense official told Government Executive that the Defense Department has a long history of providing information to SIGAR, but in terms of this request they’re asking for data that’s not broken down the way they think it is. “At the end of the day, this all just boils down to the complexities of government funding,” the official said.
Also, the Defense Department “is well aware of SIGAR’s recent report seeking to determine the factors that led to the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces,” said Army Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick, the Defense Department’s Afghanistan spokesperson. “Since SIGAR’s inception, DoD has contributed to and facilitated their work—a fact the report echoes in its opening pages.”
Lodewick added: “While we take exception to SIGAR’s assertions of non-cooperation and address them accordingly in our official response in Appendix II, the department will continue to facilitate SIGAR’s work moving forward for security and defense-related matters concerning Afghanistan.”
A State Department spokesperson said that the department has given SIGAR responses “to dozens of questions, as well as thousands of pages of responsive documents, analyses and spreadsheets describing dozens of programs that were part of the U.S. government’s reconstruction effort in Afghanistan,” adding that “we are frequently, regularly working with SIGAR within the scope of its statutory mandate.”
In addition to SIGAR, the State Department is continuing to cooperate with congressional committees and agency IGs “that have jurisdiction over aid that the United States is currently providing to Afghanistan, including the $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid that has been provided since August 2021.”
Similarly, a USAID spokesperson said that the agency “routinely and regularly provides information to multiple oversight bodies—such as SIGAR, Congress, and both State and USAID’s inspectors general.” As for SIGAR specifically, “we are frequently and regularly working with SIGAR on their requests.” Since the day the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan, which was August 15, 2021, “we have participated in more than 35 congressional briefings and responded to nearly 50 questions from Congress on Afghanistan.”
The chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of the top investigative priorities for the Republican-controlled House. The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has been raising concerns about the alleged lack of responsiveness from the agencies to SIGAR since Republicans were in the minority––sent letters to six top White House and agency officials last month asking for information about the withdrawal and reiterating concerns about transparency.