US watchdog: Afghanistan's future threatened by bad intel

Special Inspector General John Sopko inspects the abandoned G222 Fleet at Kabul International Airport in November 2013.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2015

WASHINGTON — U.S. post-war efforts to rebuild Afghanistan could collapse in a defeat similar to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the federal auditor overseeing reconstruction said Wednesday.

The country’s future — and the $62 billion American investment — is threatened by the military’s chronically poor intelligence on Afghan security forces and an anemic central government in Kabul that is unable to operate on its own, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, during a speech at a Washington think tank.

Sopko has been a top critic of waste and dysfunction in the country since he was appointed three years ago as a watchdog by the Obama administration and has now turned his oversight toward the post-war operations aimed at building up Afghan police and army troops.

“We have all heard observations that are intended to be encouraging, such as that the Taliban cannot seize and hold Afghan provincial capitals,” Sopko said. “That may be true, but I would note that the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies never took and held a provincial capital in South Vietnam until January 1975 — almost 30 years into their campaign to reunify the country as a communist state.”

A similar fate could fall on Kabul because the U.S. has no good data on the capabilities of Afghan security forces to use for its security handover goals.

The most recent reporting this year found Afghan security forces have not reached any of the highest training benchmarks set by coalition forces, Sopko said. That comes after a decade of measuring the progress and past reports claiming the forces had achieved the training successes.

The U.S. measurement system have also changed four times since 2005, making any comparisons and conclusions difficult, he said.

“It remains to be seen” whether the new reporting system this year that found Afghan police and soldiers were inadequate will end up being a useful tool, Sopko said.

“But after 10 years of assessments where ANDSF ratings have yo-yoed with every new system, I cannot help but be skeptical,” he said.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s defense and other ministries cannot stand on their own, the IG said.

“Senior U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan told me that it will take years for the Afghans to master their essential functions, and that they will not master any of them by the time the U.S. shrinks its military presence at the end of 2016,” Sopko said.

He said he doubts the Afghan ministry of defense will meet a goal of being 50 percent self-sustainable by next year.

“Afghan self-sustainment of its security institutions is long way away,” Sopko said. “Suffice it to say, the ANDSF will need our help for the foreseeable future. If our Afghan partners are to succeed, we must accept this fact now.”

Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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