State Department officials have refused to provide the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction with information related to last year’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the watchdog said Wednesday in a letter to senior Biden administration officials and lawmakers.
In a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Ball, Special Inspector General John Sopko complained that State Department and USAID officials “unreasonably” refused to provide multiple Audits and congressional mandated reviews of information requested.
“Historically, state and USAID officials have supported SIGAR’s mission and respected my office’s request,” he wrote. “Inexplicably, this long track record of cooperation appears to come to an abrupt end. Agency officials now appear to be taking a premeditated stance of obstruction.”
A State Department spokesman, in turn, bluntly criticized Mr. Sopko’s many findings in last month’s report on the failed 20-year U.S. mission in Afghanistan, saying the inspector general did not give the State Department the opportunity to comment on the draft report and did not Consult with the department to arrive at his findings.
“Our view is that the report does not reflect the consensus of the State Department or the U.S. government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. Developments in Afghanistan have unique insights that are not reflected in the report.”
“If we have any additional responses to the letters and responses given today,” he added, “we will certainly pass on that information.”
Mr. Sopko said his comments focused specifically on the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan in the final days of the withdrawal, compliance by the State Department and USAID with laws prohibiting the transfer of funds to the Taliban, and ongoing humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. something else.
“As the U.S. government continues to add to the billions of dollars already spent on the government and people of Afghanistan since 2002, American taxpayers deserve objective information on where their money is going and to whom,” Mr. Sopko wrote. .
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael T. McCall of Texas, said the refusal to comply with SIGAR’s demands “is just another transparent attempt to cover up President Biden’s chaotic and deadly troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“They hope they can ignore the mandate of Congress and the pleas of American citizens and Afghan partners who are still trapped, and hope that this problem will go away somehow,” Mr McCall said. “But the American people haven’t forgotten — they want accountability.”
In his letter to Mr. Blinken, Mr. Sopko wrote that state and USAID officials ignored the SIGAR auditor’s letter, refused to allow staff to be interviewed, and refused to allow SIGAR to travel abroad for field research. He argues that the State Department and USAID expressly declined to provide information to audit ongoing aid programs to ensure that no U.S. taxpayer funds were diverted to the Taliban or the Haqqani network.
“The fact that the state and USAID would thwart such surveillance efforts, especially after the Taliban seized government power in Afghanistan, is unprecedented,” Mr. Sopko wrote.
State Department officials questioned SIGAR’s legal jurisdiction, noting that the State Department’s acting legal counsel and USAID’s general counsel sent a letter to SIGAR seeking clarification on the regulator’s mandate for the review.
Lawyers for the State Department claimed that “activities involving humanitarian and development assistance remain outside the current purview of SIGAR.”
“We have been reporting on Afghanistan’s humanitarian and development assistance programs since 2008, according to the plain text of SIGAR’s enabling legislation,” Mr. Sopko wrote in a letter to Mr. Blinken. “To date, no federal agency has challenged SIGAR’s authority to oversee such programs.”
“Congress has expressly granted SIGAR jurisdiction over all reconstruction spending in Afghanistan, including development and humanitarian aid,” Mr Sopko told lawmakers. “It is appalling that state and USAID officials chose to break the law at this particular moment, hinder SIGAR’s oversight efforts, and refuse to cooperate with our oversight requests.”
“Congress and American taxpayers should know why the Afghan government fell after all the aid, where the money went and how taxpayer money is now being spent in Afghanistan,” he wrote.