Biden admin clashes with Afghan IG as Republicans prepare grill

The under-the-radar battle between the Biden administration and the independent Afghanistan inspector general will soon come into focus when Republicans take over the House in January, vowing to roll back what GOP leaders say is systematic “obstruction.” The State Department and other agencies of the federal government.

As the next Congress is sworn in, House Republicans have vowed to urgently convene new oversight hearings in August 2021 on the widely criticized hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and its aftermath. Much of the effort will focus on the administration’s handling of the withdrawal and why senior officials were not fired as a result, as critics have argued.

But Republicans are also at odds with the administration and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the government’s top watchdog for Afghanistan and an agency that has regularly highlighted blatant waste, fraud and fraud since its inception in 2008. they reduce social conflict to zero. Mismanagement of American funds during reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

SIGAR’s quarterly reports to Congress have long been a thorn in the side of administrations of both parties, but supporters say that over the past 16 years, it has provided an important window into how US money is being spent as Washington tries to rebuild Afghanistan. builds an army and supports his hapless government.

Despite past tensions between SIGAR and multiple administrations, the inspector general’s investigators appear to have always had access to the information they sought to conduct assessments. But SIGAR claims the Biden administration is refusing to provide detailed accounts of nearly $1.1 billion in aid since August 2021, when the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan.

The inspector general said in his most recent quarterly report that SIGAR “for the first time in its history is unable to provide Congress and the American people with a full account of these U.S. government expenditures this quarter due to the failure of several U.S. government agencies to cooperate.” He introduced the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to Congress to freeze the watchdogs.

The dispute stems from differing interpretations of what constitutes the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan and, consequently, where SIGAR’s legal authority begins and ends. With the end of the 20-year US military and development mission in Afghanistan, the administration says SIGAR’s work must also end.

A State Department spokesman told The Washington Times: “We have been engaged in a back-and-forth with SIGAR for some time now, and we fundamentally disagree with their assessment of what Afghanistan reconstruction should be.”

“Our position is that, with the exception of certain special funds, SIGAR’s legal mandate is limited to funds available for ‘Afghanistan reconstruction.’ After the Taliban seized power in August 2021, the United States suspended aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and is now focusing on alleviating the urgent humanitarian situation in the country.

A spokesperson for USAID reiterated this position, claiming that US funding for the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan has ended.

“However, the State Department and USAID provided SIGAR with written responses to dozens of questions, as well as thousands of pages of responsive documents, analyzes and tables describing dozens of programs that are part of the US government’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.” This was stated by the spokesperson of USAID. “We work frequently, regularly with SIGAR within its statutory mandate.”

Bad blood between the watchdog and the departments it oversees is nothing new. In a fiery commentary this week, former Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called SIGAR an “expensive inconsistency” that should be shut down immediately.

Citing complaints in SIGAR’s latest quarterly report that USAID, the Treasury Department, and the State Department have severely limited their cooperation or refused to work with SIGAR investigators, Ms. McCusker writes: “I wonder why? Perhaps because the presence of the United States in Afghanistan enables the collection of reliable detailed information. Perhaps because SIGAR has been wasting staff time with requests for information and greatly reducing the bottom line for years, even before the ignominious US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The inspector general, he added, “has repeatedly obscured what benefits he has accrued through a prosecutorial tone and approach to releasing reports suspiciously focused on grabbing headlines rather than improving the use of taxpayer funds and accountability.”

But SIGAR chief John Sopko has long been a critic of the lack of transparency at both the State Department and the Defense Department about the true state of the Afghanistan conflict and the cost to the American taxpayer, and in 2019 the US civilian and military leadership on the war “ encouraged to lie to the Congress.”

“The whole incentive is to show success and ignore failure,” he told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “And when there’s a lot of failure — classify it or don’t report it.”

And the watchdog office continued to publish new reports and analyzes of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, including one this month that sharply criticized the long record of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the efforts of the U.S. and its allies to maintain it. the government in power.

“The United States has worked to build stable, democratic, representative, gender-sensitive, and accountable Afghan governance institutions,” the report concludes. “It failed.”

Control struggle

For Republicans, bringing Afghanistan back into the spotlight could bring some political benefits — though it would also remind them that it was former President Donald Trump, not President Biden, who signed the initial peace deal with the Taliban in early 2020. It demands the withdrawal of the United States.

President Biden’s personal confirmation polls were hit in the summer of 2021 by the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and the defeat of the US and its allies in a hasty, ill-organized retreat, a blow from which the president never fully recovered.

“I think the political points that Republicans will try to make with this study will be with the Republican base and get it back on the radar for some independent voters,” said Todd Belt, director of the political management program. George Washington University Graduate School of Political Administration.

“While this is Trump’s plan, they will criticize Biden’s handling of the withdrawal and try to use it to question Biden’s judgment and his fitness to serve as commander-in-chief,” he said.

The rhetorical spat between the administration and SIGAR has been on Republicans’ radar for months, but without oversight from both houses of Congress, they have limited power to address the issue.

That will change in January. Republicans on multiple key committees have said they plan to ask the administration for more information and have suggested they could use congressional subpoena powers if necessary.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans told The Times that they view the lack of cooperation with SIGAR as a “significant problem” and that the Biden administration fears that continued surveillance of SIGAR could “reveal potentially damaging information” to the White House. .

The information, they said, could reveal mismanagement, fraud or waste of $1.1 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid, or, in a worst-case scenario, it could show that some of the money is going indirectly into the hands of the Taliban or its allies.
State Department and USAID spokesmen insist they are cooperating with other watchdogs monitoring the money, including congressional committees and inspectors general of both agencies.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are also focused on the administration’s fight against SIGAR. In a Nov. 7 letter to Mr. Sopko, the Republican-led committee requested numerous documents about SIGAR’s relationship with the administration.

“CIGAR is critical to the government’s investigation of all matters related to US operations in Afghanistan,” Reps. James Comer, R-Kentucky, and Glenn Grotman, R-Wisconsin, wrote in the letter. The two men are the ranking Republicans on the Oversight Committee and its national security subcommittee, respectively.

“Historically [the State Department] and USAID fulfilled SIGAR’s mission with honor,” they wrote. “Following the deadly withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, their current lack of cooperation with SIGAR is troubling. Without SIGAR’s oversight, the American people have no answers as to what their taxpayer dollars are and how they are spent [continue] will be used and what effect the withdrawal has had on our national security.

The controversy is only part of a larger issue. Republicans say they will also press the administration for answers about its planning for the U.S. withdrawal and why military and intelligence assessments have so badly failed to predict how long the Afghan government will survive when American combat forces withdraw.

“When we tried to get information about the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, we were widely obstructed by the Biden administration,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. . “In the next Congress, I can guarantee that our committee will no longer stand when our Article 1 oversight authority is ignored.”