Watchdog highlights dire conditions in Afghanistan amid US agency resistance to surveillance

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A government watchdog offers a grim update on life in Afghanistan since the US pullout while chastising US agencies for pushing back on its attempts to review their efforts in the country since the Taliban takeover.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who has been reviewing the work of multiple agencies in the beleaguered country for more than a decade, said Wednesday morning that he had never faced a such a level of resistance to its surveillance functions.

“SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full account of these U.S. government expenditures due to the non-cooperation of multiple 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 have refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department has been selective in the information it has provided in accordance with SIGAR’s agreement on quarterly audit and data requests, sharing high-level funding data, but no details on supported programs by the agency in Afghanistan.

Some agencies have repeatedly pushed back against the inspector general, The Hill previously reported, with an October email stating that USAID and the State Department both “largely refused” to respond to requests for help. information following a June notice to SIGAR legislators.

The United States has provided more than $1 billion in aid to the Afghan people since withdrawing its troops from the country last year.

But while SIGAR strove to fully assess the US government’s role in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, it was able to paint a grim assessment of conditions in the country since the US exit.

A sustained US effort to promote a free press largely evaporated under the Taliban regime, as did much of the progress made in women’s quality of life, whether in education, health care or the economy.

The watchdog reports that 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 has found that women and girls now face significant risks, including reduced access to education and health care; loss of autonomy, including the ability to be economically and otherwise independent; and increased risks to personal safety and security,” 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 beyond primary school level. It’s a move that the international agency estimates will cost the Afghan economy up to $5.4 billion in lifetime earning potential.

This figure coincides with a broader economic collapse since the US exit.

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

More than half the country needs humanitarian aid, with some $600 million needed over the next few months to prepare for winter by improving shelters and distributing clothes and blankets.

Since the withdrawal, Afghanistan has seen 40% of its media shut down and lost 60% of its journalists, according to data from Reporters Without Borders.

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

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