Afghan American auditor denounces Biden administration’s non-cooperation

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A US government agency on Wednesday criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for preventing it from fully assessing about $1.1 billion in US humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in its quarterly report that Washington remains the biggest donor to the war-torn South Asian country.

The agency has been reviewing US agency programs in Afghanistan for more than a decade and criticizes wasteful US spending in the country.

“SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full account of these US government expenditures due to non-cooperation by US agencies,” indicates the report.

“The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers the vast majority of current U.S. funding for Afghanistan, and the Treasury Department have refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity.” The State Department “has been selective in the information it has provided … sharing funding data but not details of agency-supported programs,” the report claims.

The lack of cooperation was “in direct violation” of the 2008 law that created SIGAR, the report said, adding that some agencies pushed back on the auditor for months.

USAID and the Department of State said in response to SIGAR data requests that current US programming in Afghanistan is “humanitarian and development assistance” and “unrelated to reconstruction activities.”

“Our position is that with the exception of some specific funds, SIGAR’s statutory mandate is limited to funds available ‘for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’. Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the United States has ceased providing assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and is now focused on improving the immediate humanitarian situation in the country,” said a State Department spokesperson.

“SIGAR itself has acknowledged that reconstruction programming is different from humanitarian assistance, but SIGAR’s current work does not appear to fall within its statutory mandate to oversee funds ‘for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.’

The SIGAR report rejected this claim, noting that there was little or no substantial difference between assistance called “reconstruction” and assistance called “development” or “humanitarian”.

The quarterly report presented a bleak picture of Afghanistan since US-led NATO troops withdrew from the country last year after two decades of war with the then Islamist Taliban insurgents. He concluded that “current conditions are similar to those under the Taliban in the 1990s.”

The Afghan economy has shrunk by around 20% since August 2021, while potentially losing up to 700,000 jobs and more than half of Afghanistan’s population (around 24.4 million Afghans) are in need of aid, according to SIGAR.

The report says the Taliban has largely reversed years of U.S.-backed efforts to promote Afghan human rights and independent local media, programs that cost USAID at least $220 million .

SIGAR cited United Nations estimates that more than 3 million girls who previously attended secondary school have been denied their right to access education in the year since the Taliban took over. power. The current ban on secondary education for girls could end up costing the Afghan economy up to $5.4 billion in lifetime earning potential, he warned.

The US agency said the country had lost nearly 40% of its media and 60% of its journalists since the Islamist group took power, citing findings by Reporters Without Borders last August. Reporters Without Borders is a media advocacy organization widely known as RSF for the French abbreviation of its name.

“Since August 2021, the Afghan media sector has largely collapsed under the weight of Taliban restrictions and censorship,” the report said.

No country has yet recognized the Taliban administration. The United States and allied countries suspended international financial aid to Afghanistan and imposed sanctions on the banking sector immediately after the Islamist group took power. These measures pushed the Afghan economy to the brink of collapse and aggravated an already serious humanitarian crisis in the country.

The Biden administration, however, has since eased the flow of humanitarian aid for the Afghan people and eased some of the sanctions related to the banking sector.

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