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A Watchdog Group Had Been Sounding The Warning About Afghanistan's Meltdown For Years

Updated August 16, 2021 at 10:51 AM ET

For those wondering how Afghanistan could fall so swiftly to the Taliban, the dozens of dispatches from a Congress-created watchdog group reflect it didn't: The meltdown was a slow-motion disaster years in the making.

This link will take you to every report filed by SIGAR, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Congress created the agency to maintain an independent oversight on the billions of dollars the U.S. appropriated for Afghanistan's reconstruction since 2002.

"All the signs have been there," the head of the watchdog agency, John Sopko, told"All Things Considered" on Sunday.

Sopko said his agency released multiple reports and he testified more than 50 times to sound the warning in the last decade.

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in 2015.
Al Drago / CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in 2015.

"I mean, we've been shining a light on it in multiple reports going back to when I started [in] 2012 about changing metrics, about ghosts, ghost soldiers who didn't exist, about poor logistics, about the fact that the Afghans couldn't sustain what we were giving them," he said. "So these reports have come out."

The speed with which the Taliban overtook Afghanistan "maybe is a little bit of a surprise," Sopko said. But "the fact that the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] could not fight on their own should not have been a surprise to anyone."

Another report from SIGAR comes out Tuesday.

It'll lay out what the U.S. can do differently in other countries where it's involved in relief and reconstruction.

"Well, the top-line lesson is that we have a very difficult time developing and implementing a coherent rule, a multi-agency approach to these type of problems. And we got serious problems with the way we send people over there and HR the system," Sopko said.

"We have serious problems about our procurement system. And we have serious problems of going into a country and not understanding the culture and the makeup of that country."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 17, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story described SIGAR's upcoming report as its final. It is not.
Saeed Ahmed