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America was overwhelmed, lacked coherent strategy for Afghanistan, US govt agency report says

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), created by US Congress in 2008, criticises country's $145 billion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, draws up seven lessons.

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New Delhi: The US struggled to develop a “coherent strategy” for its $145 billion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, according to a report by a US government agency released Monday.

The agency, known as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), was created by the US Congress in 2008 as its leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction.

Titled ‘What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction’, SIGAR’s latest report criticises the US mission in Afghanistan and offers seven lessons to be learned.

“While there have been several areas of improvement — most notably in the areas of health care, maternal health, and education — progress has been elusive and the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious,” it states.

This comes after the Taliban swept into Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul Sunday and effectively took over the country.

President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders fled to neighbouring countries, while the US continues to evacuate its diplomatic staff and Afghan civilians.

SIGAR has offices in Kabul and other locations in Afghanistan but is headquartered in Virginia, US. It regularly deploys auditors, inspectors, and conducts investigations on long-term tours to Afghanistan.

Also read: US’ failure to push back Pakistan has brought Taliban to Kabul. India had seen it coming

‘US didn’t tailor efforts to Afghan context’

The US effort failed to understand how long the reconstruction mission would take, ensure its projects were sustainable and staff the mission with trained professionals, notes SIGAR’s latest report.

The US has been “often overwhelmed” in rebuilding a country that had already been battered by Soviet occupation, civil war, and the Taliban rule, it states. The US also didn’t account for the challenges posed by insecurity, neither tailored efforts to the Afghan context nor understood the impact of programmes in sectors of health, education, rule of law, women’s rights, infrastructure and security assistance, the report adds.

The report is based on the agency’s 13 years of oversight work and 760 interviews of current and former policymakers, ambassadors, generals, military officers, development experts, and other practitioners.

In the past, SIGAR has issued 427 audits, 191 special project reports, 52 quarterly reports, and 10 comprehensive lessons learned reports.

Also read: On the roads of Kabul, anxiety, fear, terror & gunshots a day after Taliban take control

Seven lessons

The report offers seven key lessons to be learned from the US’ 20-year reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

These include:

1) lack of coherent strategy
2) “unrealistic timelines” that prioritised spending quickly
3) unsustainable institutions and infrastructure projects
4) poor training of US personnel in Afghanistan
5) violence in the region undermined reconstruction efforts
6) poor understanding of local culture and politics, and
7) insufficient monitoring and evaluation

For the sixth lesson, the report states: “The US government also clumsily forced Western technocratic models onto Afghan economic institutions; trained security forces in advanced weapon systems they could not understand…imposed formal rule of law on a country that addressed 80 to 90 percent of its disputes through informal means; and often struggled to understand or mitigate the cultural and social barriers to supporting women and girls.”

It also notes, with regard to the last lesson, that American agencies didn’t effectively measure results of their reconstruction effort “while sometimes relying on shaky data to make claims of success”.

Despite the Taliban’s rapid advances in recent weeks, US President Joe Biden has defended the move to withdraw US troops by the 11 September deadline — the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted the US invasion in Afghanistan.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building or to be creating a unified, centralised democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been — preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland …,” Biden said at a press conference Monday.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Facebook bans all content supporting Taliban, deems it terrorist organisation, says report


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