Taliban Pocketing $2.5 Billion In US Taxpayer Humanitarian Aid: Inspector General
Authored by John Haughey via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
U.S. taxpayers have provided $2.5 billion in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan to international nonprofit organizations since the United States’ abrupt August 2021 withdrawal—a chaotic departure scarred by suicide bombings that killed 180 people, including 13 American service members.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington on Nov. 14, 2023. The inspector general is frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the Biden administration’s State Department in figuring out where $2.5 billon in U.S. humanitarian assistance has been spent since August 2021. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
No one knows how that money is being spent except, likely, the leaders of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban.
And, apparently, that’s acceptable with the Biden administration and its State Department, which has resisted efforts by an inspector general cadre since 2008 to track Afghan economic assistance allocations.
“The State Department has basically obfuscated, delayed reports … ordered their employees not to talk to us,” John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Nov. 14.
“We’ve gone out of our way to work with them but we’re still not getting cooperation.”
He noted that Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West has ignored “countless entreaties to meet” to “share information, learn what’s going on and what their issues are so we can try to help them.”
The House panel hearing preceded a later Afghanistan-related discussion before the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee that retraced decisions by the Trump and Biden administrations leading to the Aug. 26, 2021, calamity that ended America’s near-20-year Afghan war. The hearings spanned nearly six hours.
“We do not know, period,” how humanitarian assistance is being used, said Mr. Sopko, who has led SIGAR since its inception. “But evidence from multiple sources, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), indicates that “the Taliban is diverting or otherwise benefiting” while intended beneficiaries are not.
“Many would like to believe we are aiding Afghan people while successfully bypassing the Taliban. This can be viewed as a useful fiction, as it ignores the fact that it’s impossible to entirely bypass the Taliban regime,” he said.
Because the United States doesn’t recognize the Taliban-led Afghan government, it allocates humanitarian aid through international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and U.N. agencies.
Those NGOs and agencies all report routine, widespread misappropriation by the Taliban, Mr. Sopko said.
“The Taliban pressures the U.N. and other NGOs to issue contracts to Taliban-affiliated companies, to partner with Taliban-affiliated NGOs, and to not partner with other NGOs. The Taliban have embedded intelligence officials in U.N. agencies to supervise their work, facilitate the interference and diversion, and censor reporting about it,” he said. “The Taliban also collect taxes and other fees from EU- and U.S.-funded implementing partners.”
While such pilferage is “not unique to the Taliban,” Mr. Sopko said, in this case, “diverted U.S. assistance may now be funding terrorist activities in addition to enriching the pockets of corrupt officials.”
“Our research confirms those who control the guns control the aid,” he said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas), noting that the United States remains the “largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan” and that he supports this so long as there are assurances that it’s used as intended, said he was troubled “that the Biden administration is pursuing a policy of engagement at all costs” with the Taliban while not holding the Sunni ultra-fundamentalist sect “to account for their crimes.”
Biden administration officials meet “with the Taliban frequently, praise the Taliban often, and haphazardly send billions of taxpayer dollars into Afghanistan,” he said. “Through these policies, the Biden administration has all but recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and yet, over the past two years by every metric, the Taliban has only become worse.”
The Taliban “are terrorists who impose theocratic edicts to oppress the Afghan people, abuse women, and steal humanitarian aid from starving Afghans,” Mr. McCaul said. “They partner with terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, and Tehrik-e Taliban.
“Under Taliban rule, women and girls describe their day-to-day lives as living under house arrest. They are barred from public places, not allowed to travel outside their homes without a male chaperone. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are banned from receiving an education above the sixth grade.”
$7 Billion in US Weapons Unaccounted For
Mr. McCaul asked what happened to the $7 billion in military equipment and weapons that the United States provided to the Afghan army.
The Taliban is “using them,” Mr. Sopko said. “We know they are parading them around, particularly some of the higher, more sophisticated weapons, including some of the helicopters, planes, and other hardware.”
There are unconfirmed allegations “that some of those weapons have left Afghanistan,” he said. “I would only assume, from what the Taliban is up to, that it’s a buyers’ market for former U.S. weapons.”
Mr. Sopko said SIGAR has reservations about $3.5 billion frozen in Afghanistan’s central bank—Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB)—that in September 2022 was transferred to the Geneva-based Bank for International Settlements as the Fund for the Afghan People.
The fund is regulated under Swiss banking laws, he said.
“I’m an old country lawyer. I used to be a federal prosecutor. But when I talk about Switzerland and funding, I don’t think of openness,” Mr. Sopko said. “So, why is the money there? And why are we following Swiss law for this? So, those are questions we’re asking” in a report to be completed soon.
The fund is managed by a four-member board that includes U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for International Affairs Jay Shambaugh; Switzerland Department of Foreign Affairs Prosperity & Sustainability Division chief Alexandra Baumann; former DAB Governor and Afghanistan Minister of Finance Anwar ul-Haq Ahady; and DAB Supreme Council member and senior Afghanistan economic adviser Shah Mohammed Mehrabi.
SIGAR has “serious concerns about one of the people on the board,” Mr. Sopko said. “We’ve found some really derogatory information about that person. And I mean, I know I got super sleuths working for me, but this was like just doing a Google search.
“And when we brought it to the State Department, they said, ‘We didn’t know anything about that.’ So, one of the questions we raise is, ‘What type of due diligence did you do to appoint some of the people on the board?’ There’s another person on the board who is actually a member of the Taliban central bank and there’s no conflict-of-interest rules in this.”
Good luck getting answers about that from the State Department, Mr. McCaul said.
“We did invite witnesses from State and USAID. However, they refused to testify alongside Mr. Sopko and in front of SIGAR. I thought that was unfortunate,” he said.
Mr. Sopko agreed.
“It’s an awkward situation. I’m an inspector general, we don’t do policy,” Mr. Sopko said. “This is why I talk about this situation as a bad situation. There are no good answers. There are no good alternatives when providing humanitarian assistance in an environment like Afghanistan, only trade-offs.”
Fri, 11/17/2023 – 03:30