Watchdog points to dire conditions in Afghanistan amid US agencies' resistance to oversight

A government watchdog is offering a grim update on life in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal while chastising American agencies for rebuffing its attempts to review their efforts in the country since the Taliban takeover.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which has been reviewing multiple agencies’ work in the troubled nation for over a decade, said early Wednesday it has never faced this level of resistance to its oversight duties.

“SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this U.S. government spending due to the noncooperation of several U.S. government agencies,” the agency wrote in its quarterly report to Congress.

“The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers the majority of U.S. government spending for Afghanistan, and the Treasury Department refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department was selective in the information it provided pursuant to SIGAR’s audit and quarterly data requests, sharing high-level funding data but not details of agency-supported programs in Afghanistan.”

Some agencies rebuffed the inspector general multiple times, The Hill previously reported, with an October email indicating that USAID and the State Department had both “largely declined” to respond to requests for information following a June notice to lawmakers from SIGAR.

The U.S. has provided more than $1 billion in aid to the people of Afghanistan since removing its troops from the country last year.

But while SIGAR struggled to fully assess the U.S. government’s role in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, it was able to pull together a bleak assessment of conditions in the country since the U.S. exit.

A U.S.-backed effort to promote a free press has largely evaporated under Taliban rule, as has most of the progress made in quality of life for women, whether in education, health care or the economy.

The watchdog reports the Taliban have essentially wiped out 30 years of developments, concluding that “current conditions are similar to those under the Taliban in the 1990s.” 

“SIGAR found that women and girls now face significant risks including reduced access to education and healthcare; loss of empowerment, including the ability to be economically and otherwise independent; and heightened personal safety and security risks,” the report noted.

UNICEF estimates that more than 3 million girls who previously attended secondary school no longer do so following a ban on education for women past the elementary school level. It’s a move the international agency estimates will cost the Afghan economy up to $5.4 billion in lifetime earnings potential. 

That figure coincides with a broader economic collapse since the U.S. exit.

The entire country is facing intense food insecurity, with nearly half resorting to skipping some meals. More than 18 million people face life-threatening levels of hunger, including 6 million facing near-famine conditions. 

More than half the country is in need of humanitarian assistance, with some $600 million needed in just the next few months to prepare for winter by upgrading shelters and giving out clothes and blankets.

Since the withdrawal, Afghanistan has seen 40 percent of its media outlets close and lost 60 percent of its journalists, according to data from Reporters Without Borders.

“Since August 2021, the Afghan media sector has mostly collapsed under the weight of the Taliban’s restrictions and censorship,” SIGAR wrote, concluding that “without long-term, institutional support to independent journalists inside and outside of the country, Afghanistan’s media may not be able to withstand the Taliban’s efforts to totally control the flow of information about the country.”