The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has released a report entitled Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to its Demise. The SIGAR report, published in May 2022, is based in part on interviews with U.S. and Afghan former government officials and military leaders. It details how and why the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) collapsed abruptly in August 2021. This is an interim report, a final version will be released in the Fall of 2022.
One finding will be sure to generate some discussion among political circles; SIGAR states that the decision of the current and previous U.S. presidents to withdraw the U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan, while Afghan forces remained unable to sustain themselves. One former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told SIGAR:
“We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. Game over . . . when the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up.”
One example of the drastic effect of no contractor support was the vastly diminished Afghan helicopter support provided to Afghan ground troops in remote locations. The majority of the U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were grounded in ever increasing numbers each day once the U.S. contractors who performed the maintenance were pulled from Afghanistan. As a result, soldiers in isolated posts were running low on ammunition and could not be medically evacuated. Morale of the ANDSF plummeted.
A poor logistics system and corrupt Afghan police and army commanders and staffs resulted in unpaid salaries, lack of food, water, and ammunition, and shortages of fuel. These all contributed to low morale and a less than effective ANDSF.
Two other factors that drove ANDSF morale down was the U.S.-Taliban agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the announcement by President Biden that the U.S. would withdraw in a matter of months in the spring of 2021. Another important factor was air support by the U.S. to the ANDSF was vastly curtailed after the signing of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in February 2020.
The lengthy report has many more detailed observations on how and why the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces collapsed so quickly in the summer of 2021. It argues that it takes years to build a self-sustaining security sector in a poor, impoverished country that has suffered decades of conflict. The U.S. set constantly changing and politically driven milestones which undermined the attainment of a capable and self-sustaining military and police force.
The report concludes that the U.S. approach to reconstructing the ANDSF lacked the political will to dedicate the time and resources necessary. As a result the ANDSF was a force that could not operate independently and had never become a cohesive, substantive military capable of operating on its own. The February 2020 decision to commit to a rapid U.S. military withdrawal sealed the ANDSF’s fate.
Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), SIGAR 22-22IP, May 2022, PDF, 70 pages.