Afghan armed forces collapsed because of abrupt withdrawal of US support, says US watchdog

Report also blames Ashraf Ghani’s government for failing to develop national security strategy

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 19 May 2022 11:06
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Related: Viral video shows mannequins beheaded in Afghanistan on Taliban orders

A US government watchdog report released on Wednesday revealed that the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s armed forces last August was due to the abrupt withdrawal of US military and contractors from the country.

A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) said that they found that “the single most important factor in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) collapse in August 2021 was the decision by two US presidents to withdraw US military and contractors from Afghanistan, while Afghan forces remained unable to sustain themselves”.

“Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on US military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale,” the report added.

“The ANDSF had long relied on the US military’s presence to protect against large-scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries.”

The interim report Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise further noted that the US-Taliban agreement made it clear this was no longer the case, resulting in “a sense of abandonment” within the Afghan forces and the population.

The agreement set in motion a series of events: “First, the United States dramatically reduced a critical force multiplier: US airstrikes.”

“In 2017, the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy granted the Department of Defense (DOD) additional authorisations to combat the Taliban, mostly in the form of airstrikes,” Sigar’s report said.

“In 2019 alone, the United States conducted 7,423 airstrikes, the most since at least 2009. As a result, senior Afghan officials told SIGAR that the ANDSF was making progress and recapturing territory.”

Limiting airstrikes after the signing of the US-Taliban agreement the following year left the Afghan defence forces without a key advantage in keeping the Taliban at bay, it said.

“Next, the ANDSF remained reliant on the US military in part because the United States designed the ANDSF as a mirror image of US forces. This created long-term ANDSF dependencies,” the report added.

The report also found that the Afghan government failed to develop a national security strategy and plan for nationwide security following the withdrawal of US forces. “Instead, former President Ashraf Ghani frequently changed ANDSF leaders and appointed loyalists, while marginalising well-trained ANDSF officers aligned with the United States,” it said.

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