Billions in U.S. foreign aid for Afghan civilians may be heading instead directly to the coffers of Taliban leaders thanks to poor oversight of the money, a government watchdog warned lawmakers on Wednesday.
“As I sit here today, I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban,” John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told members of the House Oversight Committee. “Nor can I assure you that the Taliban are not diverting the money we are sending from the intended recipients, the Afghan people.”
The comments highlight more potentially disastrous fallout nearly two years after the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from the country. Republicans have sought to make that departure — which included the evacuations of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees but also the deaths of 13 service members in the final days of military operations there — a political liability for President Joe Biden, accusing him of abandoning allies and handing over the country to Taliban extremists.
Democratic committee members laid blame for the collapse of the democratic Afghan government on former President Donald Trump, who negotiated a withdrawal plan with Taliban leaders before Biden’s election. Both sides traded partisan barbs throughout Wednesday’s hearing.
But Sopko and other inspectors general testifying before lawmakers indicated that regardless who is blamed, problems with U.S. involvement in the region remain.
Administration officials have allotted more than $8 billion in foreign humanitarian aid to Afghan groups and charities since the August 2021 withdrawal. But Sopko said State Department officials have not been able to track large portions of those payouts, and cannot assert that the money is reaching the individuals for whom it is intended.
“I am not opposed to humanitarian assistance,” Sopko told lawmakers. “But if the purpose is to help the Afghan people, we have to have effective oversight to ensure that the money goes to them and not the Taliban.
“I haven’t seen a starving Taliban fighter on TV. I see a lot of starving Afghan children on TV,” Sopko said. “So, I’m wondering where all this funding is going.”
Similarly, Diana Shaw — acting inspector general for the State Department — testified that her office is monitoring more than 152,000 Special Immigrant Visa applicants still trapped in Afghanistan, facing years of bureaucratic red tape.
She said a failure to help those allies “has the potential to impact success or failure in other important future contexts, including Ukraine.”
Both Sopko and Shaw said administration officials have been reluctant or opposed to their offices’ efforts to continue oversight into the Afghanistan issues. Lawmakers found some bipartisan ground on that topic, saying the administration needs to be more transparent on ongoing involvement there.
The Pentagon and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this month, the White House released its long-promised analysis of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that Biden’s decisions on troop movements were “severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor … President Trump” but also that the administration “remains committed to supporting significant humanitarian assistance” there.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.