Washington’s deal with the Taliban and the subsequent botched exit of US troops from Afghanistan was “the single most important factor” in the rapid collapse of the war-ravaged country's military last year, according to a report by a US oversight agency.
In its latest report released on Wednesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) points to decisions made by former US President Donald Trump and his successor as having precipitated the collapse of the Afghan army in August 2021 and the subsequent Taliban takeover.
The US-Taliban deal “introduced tremendous uncertainty into the US-Afghan relationship,” John Sopko writes in the report, saying many of its provisions are still not public, “but are believed to be contained in secret written and verbal agreements between US and Taliban envoys.”
Even without access to secret provisions, “many Afghans thought the US-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the US was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country,” the report notes, adding that the agreement "degraded” the morale of security forces.
Afghan troops “had not only lost US support for offensive operations, they no longer knew if or when US forces would come to their defense” as “US inaction fueled mistrust among” among the security forces “toward the United States and their own government," the report notes.
The Taliban “did not capture most districts and provinces through military victory,” it states, "instead, local government officials, tribal elders, and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSF) commanders negotiated surrenders.”
For some Afghan soldiers, Sopko wrote, “fighting the Taliban was a paycheck, not a cause worth losing one’s life over.”
The Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021 after making sweeping advances across the country, which triggered the messy withdrawal of US-led foreign forces as well as the rapid collapse of the country's security forces.
President Ashraf Ghani and his inner circle, including former National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, fled the country as the Taliban laid siege to Kabul. Ghani later said he left to prevent more bloodshed or another civil war.
Mohib has on many occasions said the signing of the Doha agreement paved the way for the collapse of the former government in Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, Zalmai Khalilzad (then US special envoy for Afghanistan) was bringing the Taliban to Kabul, and he even was telling us, do not put up a defense,” he said in December last year.
The mission to build a viable Afghan military force spanned four US presidents, seven secretaries of state, eight secretaries of defense, and an equal number of Central Command chiefs, according to the SIGAR report.
The US appropriated $146 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction, with about $90 billion spent building the country’s 300,000-member security force.
Over 20 years, the conflict killed more than 2,440 US troops and at least 1,140 NATO troops. Sopko previously said it was likely that far more than the estimated 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians had also died in the decades-long conflict.