State Department officials are refusing to provide information related to last year’s calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the watchdog agency said Wednesday in letters to senior Biden administration officials and lawmakers Wednesday.
Special Inspector General John F. Sopko complained in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power that State Department and USAID officials have “unreasonably” refused to provide information requested for multiple audits and congressionally mandated reviews.
“Historically, State and USAID officials have supported SIGAR’s mission and honored my office’s requests,” he wrote. “Inexplicably, this long track record of cooperation seems to have abruptly ended. Agency officials now appear to have adopted a premeditated position of obstruction.”
A State Department spokesman in turn bluntly criticized many of the findings in Mr. Sopko‘s report last month on the collapse of the U.S. 20-year mission in Afghanistan, saying the inspector general did not give the department the opportunity to comment on the draft report and did not seek the department’s input in reaching his findings.
“Our view is that the report does not reflect the consensus view of the State Department or of the U.S. government, for that matter,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at a Wednesday briefing. “Many parts of the U.S. government, including the State Department, have unique insights into developments in Afghanistan last year that were not captured in the report.”
“If we have any additional reaction to letters and responses that were given today,” he added, “we’ll be sure to pass those along.”
The State Department later told The Washington Times that it “is committed to assisting SIGAR with its important auditing and oversight role,” though it reiterated that the department has “had concerns about how some of SIGAR’s requests for information relate to their statutory jurisdiction.”
Mr. Sopko said his reviews were specifically focused on the collapse of Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government in the final days of the withdrawal, State Department and USAID compliance with laws barring the transfer of funds to the Taliban, and ongoing humanitarian programs in Afghanistan, among other matters.
“As the U.S. government continues adding to the billions of dollars that it has already spent on the Afghan government and people since 2002, U.S. taxpayers deserve objective information concerning where their money is going and to whom it is being given,” Mr. Sopko wrote.
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael T. McCaul of Texas, said the refusal to comply with SIGAR’s requests “is just another transparent attempt to sweep President Biden’s chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan under the rug.”
“They hope they can ignore congressional mandates and the pleas of American citizens and Afghan partners that are still trapped, wishing that this problem will somehow go away,” Mr. McCaul said. “But the American people have not forgotten — and they want accountability.”
Mr. Sopko wrote in his letter to Mr. Blinken that State and USAID officials have ignored communications from SIGAR auditors, refused to make staff available for interviews and refused to permit SIGAR to travel internationally to conduct on-the-ground research. He contended that State Department and USAID refused specifically to provide information for an audit into ongoing aid programs to ensure that no U.S. taxpayer funds are transferred to the Taliban or Haqqani Network.
“The fact that State and USAID would obstruct such oversight work, particularly after the Taliban’s seizure of governmental power in Afghanistan, is unprecedented,” Mr. Sopko wrote.
State Department officials have challenged SIGAR’s legal jurisdiction, noting that the State Department’s acting legal adviser and USAID’s general counsel sent a letter to SIGAR requesting clarification of the watchdog’s mandate to conduct its reviews.
The State Department lawyers claimed that “activities involving humanitarian and development assistance remain outside SIGAR’s current mandate.”
“Consistent with the plain text of SIGAR’s authorizing legislation, we have since 2008 reported on humanitarian and development assistance programs in Afghanistan,” Mr. Sopko wrote in his letter to Mr. Blinken. “No federal agency has challenged SIGAR’s authority to conduct oversight of such programs until now.”
“Congress was clear when it granted SIGAR jurisdiction over all reconstruction spending in Afghanistan, including development and humanitarian aid,” Mr. Sopko told the lawmakers. “It is shocking that State and USAID officials are choosing at this particular juncture to violate the law, obstruct SIGAR’s oversight work, and refuse to cooperate with our oversight requests.”
“Congress and American taxpayers deserve to know why the Afghan government collapsed after all that assistance, where the money went, and how taxpayer money is now being spent in Afghanistan,” he wrote.