A new “watchdog” report on the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan confirms that more than $7.2 billion in equipment was left behind following the rapid implosion of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
The sobering report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) spread the blame broadly for the “predictable” collapse, which brought a 20-year effort to democratize Afghanistan to a humiliating finish under President Biden.
The immediate cause of the collapse was the “abrupt and uncoordinated” withdrawal, which left Afghanistan’s security force feeling demoralized, the report said.
SIGAR blames actions by both Biden and President Trump but says the “stage had been set long before” for the rapid unraveling of Afghanistan’s shaky military.
Report on Afghanistan withdrawal
Namely, the U.S. government underestimated the commitment in time and resources that was necessary to develop Afghanistan’s security force and “lacked any real yardstick” for measuring progress, the report says. It’s a striking statement, after 20 years of war that soaked up billions in taxpayer dollars.
“The U.S. approach to reconstructing the ANDSF lacked the political will to dedicate the time and resources necessary to reconstruct an entire security sector in a war-torn and impoverished country,” the report said.
The abandoned equipment includes “at least 78 aircraft worth $923.3 million, 9,524 air-to-ground munitions valued at $6.54 million, over 40,000 vehicles, more than 300,000 weapons, and nearly all night vision, surveillance, communications, and biometric equipment,” the report said, citing the Pentagon.
The status of the abandoned equipment remains “mostly unknown,” the report said, but the Taliban have used some of it to stage propaganda videos.
A Wall Street Journal report noted that a “final tally of military equipment abandoned in Afghanistan can’t be confirmed, in part, because the electronic database used to track the material crashed in early 2021.”
Other factors in the collapse included endemic “corruption” in Afghanistan’s security force and “ethnics tensions” that the U.S. failed to manage, the report said, adding that former members of Afghanistan’s army may have joined the Taliban or other extremist groups.
13 American soldiers were tragically killed in a terror bombing at Kabul’s airport during the frantic August 2021 evacuation, which Biden hailed as an “extraordinary success.” Nevertheless, the chaotic withdrawal dealt lasting damage to Biden’s approval ratings.
Far from “predictable,” General Mark Milley and Pentagon secretary Lloyd Austin testified before Congress in September 2021 that Afghanistan’s rapid collapse came as a “surprise.”
“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” Austin said at the time.
The Pentagon doubled down on the deflection strategy in response to the SIGAR report, saying Afghanistan’s army was judged to be “very capable” before the collapse.