On Wednesday, the special inspector general overseeing U.S. taxpayer aid to Afghanistan slammed the Biden Administration for its “unprecedented” lack of cooperation with the watchdog office.
John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), called on lawmakers to put an end to “obfuscation and delay” by the State Department in providing information that would allow him to have complete oversight over the over $8 billion in funding by the U.S. made available to the people of Afghanistan since President Biden withdrew military forces in 2021 from the country.
In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, Sopko warned that the Taliban is probably stealing funds meant to be used to assist the people of Afghanistan. The money includes $2 billion, around 60%, which is made up of food aid, and funds for civil society and human rights, health care, and agriculture.
“I would just say I haven’t seen a starving Taliban fighter on TV. They all seem to be fat, dumb, and happy. I see a lot of starving Afghan children on TV. So, I’m wondering where all this funding is going,” said Sopko.
In his opening remarks, Sopko told lawmakers he could not guarantee American taxpayer dollars aren’t being used to fund 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.”
A SIGAR report released just before Sopko’s testimony gave details of the “serious risks” posed to Afghanistan’s U.S.-funded programs. The special inspector general said Taliban interference with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations is the most significant concern for oversight bodies.
Per the report, the Taliban is given access to international funds for levying customs charges on taxes, fees, and imports on NGOs. Although official U.S. policy remains to support the Afghani people without assisting the Taliban regime, the report details how widespread interference and corruption from the radical Islamist government have significantly undermined those efforts.
Sopko condemned the State Department, United States Agency for International Development
The SIGAR also raised concerns with the multicultural organizations the United States partners with to bring aid to Afghanistan.
Prior reports have found that NGOs receiving taxpayer dollars “have not provided information or oversight necessary to make informed decisions about program effectiveness,” states the report. Since withdrawing, the U.S. has not had in-person visibility on how the funds are being spent, which has increased problems with fraud, abuse, and waste, according to the report from SIGAR.
Sopko condemned the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department for failing to comply with SIGAR audits and other inquiries, which he explained makes oversight increasingly tricky.
“The lack of cooperation by State…is unprecedented in the nearly 12 years that I have been the SIGAR, and I must add, in the two decades that I did congressional oversight both in the Senate and in the House,” said Sopko.
He indicated that President Biden’s administration’s “refusal to fully cooperate” has led to several SIGAR reports being “hindered and delayed.”
“We need your help to stop this obfuscation and delay by the Department of State and, to some extent, by USAID,” said Sopko to the Oversight Committee. “We cannot abide a situation in which agencies are allowed to pick and choose what information an IG gets, or who an IG can interview, or what an IG may report on,” he continued. “If permitted to continue, it will end SIGAR’s work in Afghanistan but also Congress’ access to independent and credible oversight of any administration.”