Wednesday 19 April 2023

Afghanistan Inspector General Warns U.S. May Be Funding Taliban

 A government watchdog told Congress on Wednesday the Taliban may be stealing money from the billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers meant to help the people of Afghanistan.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko issued the warning during a hearing before the House Oversight Committee alongside other inspectors general.

“Unfortunately, as I sit here today, I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban,” Sopko said in his opening remarks.

“Nor can I assure you that the Taliban are not diverting the money we are sending from the intended recipients, which are the poor Afghan people,” he added.

The focus of the hearing, as described by the GOP-led panel, was the Biden administration’s “disastrous” withdrawal in 2021 when 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed in a blast outside the airport during the evacuation.

After 20 years of war, the Taliban quickly toppled the U.S.-backed Afghan government and regained control of the country. Billions of dollars in military equipment, which the U.S. sent to Afghan security forces that were fighting the Taliban, were left behind. The Taliban recently released photos showing hundreds of U.S. military vehicles it claims to have commandeered.

In written testimony for the hearing, Sopko announced his team planned to release a 2023 High Risk List report on Tuesday that outlines “five serious risks to the more than $8 billion the United States has provided or otherwise made available to the Afghan people since the U.S. withdrawal.”

The testimony outlines several ways the Taliban may be diverting funds intended for the Afghan people to itself, including imposing customs charges on shipments coming into the country, charging taxes and fees directly on NGOs, and diverting funds away from groups “the Taliban considers hostile and toward groups they favor.”

In addition to criticizing opacity from the United Nations, Sopko accused the State Department and United States Agency for International Development of refusing to cooperate with audits and other inquiries, which he says is hampering SIGAR’s ability to oversee funds spent on Afghanistan.

“In sum, due to the refusal of State and USAID to fully cooperate with SIGAR, I cannot report to this Committee or the American people on the extent to which our government may be funding the Taliban and other nefarious groups with U.S. taxpayer dollars,” he wrote.

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