The Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its quarterly oversight report Thursday that examines the US’s failed effort at nation-building in Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters, SIGAR chief John Sopko warned that the US government hasn’t learned its lesson from the almost 20-year war.
SIGAR was formed in 2008, and Sopko became the inspector general in 2012. He said the Thursday report tells the same story the watchdog has been telling for years. “You know, you really shouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been reading our reports for at least the nine years … that I’ve been there,” he said. “We’ve been highlighting problems with our train, advise, and assist mission with the Afghan military.”
Sopko said US military leaders were always shifting goalposts about what the mission in Afghanistan was when faced with SIGAR’s bleak assessments. “Every time we took a look at the assessment tools, our US military would change the goalposts and say, ‘Oh no, no, that’s not the test you want to do,'” he said.
The Pentagon is still not heeding SIGAR’s warnings. After the withdrawal, the US will still provide the Afghan military with funding even though assessments from SIGAR say it cannot be maintained. SIGAR predicted back in March that the Afghan Air Force would not be able to stand on its own since so many of its aircraft are entirely reliant on maintenance from Pentagon contractors.
The collapse of the Afghan Air Force has already started since the US has pulled out the bulk of its troops and contractors. On July 23rd, an Afghan lawmaker said one-third of the fleet of about 160 aircraft is inoperable due to a spare parts shortage or the departure of Pentagon contractors. SIGAR’s Thursday report detailed the steep decline in the combat readiness of Afghanistan’s warplanes and helicopters.
Despite SIGAR’s warnings and the reality on the ground, the US is still planning to thrown billions at the Afghan government. For 2022, the Pentagon has set aside $3.3 billion for the Afghan military.
Sopko cited Vietnam as an example of how Washington hasn’t learned its lesson from failed wars. “Don’t believe what you’re told by the generals or the ambassadors or people in the administration saying we’re never going to do this again,” he said. “That’s exactly what we said after Vietnam: we’re never going to do this again. Lo and behold, we did Iraq. And we did Afghanistan. We will do this again.”