Afghan Reconstruction Inspector Believes US Destined to Repeat Mistakes in Ukraine

Sgt. Alfred Tripolone III, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I am a veteran of the last forever war. My husband and I deployed to Afghanistan, lost friends in Afghanistan, and feel the moral injury of how we left that country and those we were charged to help and protect.

As we watched Afghans falling to their deaths from our military aircraft, terrorists my husband guarded released by the Taliban from prison, and our fellow Afghan partners hung for their partnership with us, our hearts broke. Fast forward, and you’d think it never happened. Instead, the news is filled with calls for more aid to Ukraine, possible military intervention at our southern border, and escalating threats from China.

As usual, our country has moved on, forgotten, or just given up on finding answers to why and how our government botched this war and the withdrawal up so severely without any real consequences. However, one person is still raising red flags and has a pessimistic view of our prospects in Ukraine.

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A Damning Report

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report was recently published, and it had some damning assessments of how our government managed or, should I say, mismanaged the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Placing blame on all the administrations that had a role in the war, from President George Bush on the report takes you on quite a sobering 20-year journey of negligence and poor preparation and execution.

But the report spent a considerable amount of time on the withdrawal itself, stating that its “abrupt and uncoordinated” execution by the Biden administration sealed the fate of the Afghan people. Moreover, the report explains, “The character of the withdrawal left many Afghans with the impression that the U.S. was simply handing Afghanistan over to a Taliban government-in-waiting.”

Many of us that spent time in Afghanistan were involved not just in the counterterrorism mission but the alleged reconstruction mission. Essentially this mission was built on the false idea that we could rebuild Afghanistan in our own image, creating a valuable American-based democratic ally in an area not known for its embracement of American ideals.

Sound familiar? It should; it’s been our playbook for decades despite being unsuccessful 100% of the time.

On the Afghanistan reconstruction efforts, the report details the challenges the military faced as we were “tasked with balancing competing requirements” and “no one country or agency had ownership of the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) development mission.” And therein lies the truth about the inevitability of the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

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Experts at Failure

The lead inspector of the SIGAR report had some harsh words this week for our government and the institutions that continue to perpetuate failure after failure. John Sopko said, “I’m not super optimistic that we are going to learn our lessons…learning lessons is not in our DNA in the United States, unfortunately.”

Mr. Sopko describes how our government and military knew that this was an endeavor doomed to fail from the jump, “Early on, we realized that we were building things in Afghanistan that the Afghans didn’t need, didn’t want, didn’t even know they were getting and couldn’t sustain.” But this isn’t the first time Mr. Sopko has spoken out about the massive issues surrounding our campaign in Afghanistan.

Two years ago, Mr. Sopko stated after another SIGAR report had been released, “We basically forced our Generals, forced our military, forced our ambassadors, forced the USAID to try to show success in short timelines which they themselves knew were never going to work.” While our Department of Defense and the civilian leaders who run our government repetitively fail at foreign policy and military engagements, they are experts at obfuscating those failures into faux successes.

As Sopko went on to explain how the DOD would adjust their internal assessment markers to hide their failures, “Every time we went in, the U.S. military changed the goalposts and made it easier to show success, and then finally, when they couldn’t even do that, they classified the assessment tool.”

“They knew how bad the Afghan military was, and if you had a clearance, you could find out,” he said “but the average American wouldn’t know how bad it was.”

Not until the fall of Afghanistan was on every television, that is.

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Does Anybody Care?

Other than the data and subsequent revelations in the report, the most appalling aspect is how little the rest of the government cares about this report.

Sopko explained that “this report, with its companion report, is the only official U.S. government report that’s public… on the 20 years spent in Afghanistan.”

Think about that; this is the only official report from our government on this war and the withdrawal. Sopko points out, “You would think the Department of Defense or Department of State or USAID or the National Security Council would have come out with something official on the 20 years there.” 

But that would require those bureaucratic mechanisms to care. For them to care, they would need the fear of accountability, and since our government has proven time and time again that accountability is merely a tag word versus an actual action, why would they? The SIGAR report highlighted that $7 billion worth of military equipment was left under Taliban control after we left.

You’ll hear how all the aircraft and weapons were destroyed so the Taliban couldn’t use them, which is hard to believe in and of itself. However, you won’t hear about the biometric data tools that we left behind that are still operable.

Why do these matter? Because the Taliban is using these tools for hunting, imprisoning, and executing the Afghans who fought with the United States.

If I were the DOD or National Security Council, I wouldn’t want to release too much information or dig too deep either.

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Dark Destiny

As Sopko alludes to, is it our destiny that we make the same mistakes over and over again? Unfortunately, all signs point to yes. 

On our engagement with Ukraine, Mr. Sopko is careful to point out that it isn’t the exact same situation as our engagement with Afghanistan. However, we could learn plenty of lessons from Afghanistan and apply them to Ukraine.

Mr. Sopko stated that, “We have to make certain we go into Ukraine and listen to the Ukrainians on what they need, what they want, what they can sustain.” I would add it’s important to make sure that what is being requested is in good faith and not for the betterment of Ukrainian politicians known for corruption.

The SIGAR report wraps up the rub with aid to Ukraine, stating, “There is an understandable desire amid a crisis to focus on getting money out the door and to worry about oversight later,” this desire is one we gave into time and time again in Afghanistan and, before that, Iraq.

“Given the ongoing conflict and the unprecedented volume of weapons being transferred to Ukraine, the risk that some equipment ends up on the black market or in the wrong hands is likely unavoidable.”

So the question remains, are we trying to avoid it, or do we even care?

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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