The Biden administration has provided more than $2.35 billion in taxpayer dollars to Afghanistan since the Taliban retook control of the government in 2021 following a deadly U.S. evacuation.
The United States remains Afghanistan’s top patron, even as lawmakers and federal oversight officials warn that these funds could be propping up the Taliban’s terrorist government. Updated spending figures were disclosed Tuesday in a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a federal watchdog that documents waste, fraud, and abuse related to U.S. expenditures in the war-torn country.
Around $1.7 billion "remained available for possible disbursement" at the time of SIGAR’s report, meaning that this money is ready to flow into non-profit groups and other entities working on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. With the Taliban exerting control over nearly every sector of the country’s infrastructure—including the NGO community—it is more than likely that a sizable portion of these funds will end up in the terror group’s coffers.
The latest figures are certain to increase congressional pressure on the Biden administration to stop sending taxpayer funds into Afghanistan until officials can ensure the Taliban is not stealing the money. John Sopko, head of SIGAR, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April that he "cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban." Sopko also accused the Biden administration of blocking his investigatory efforts and refusing to hand over documents that could show if the Taliban is being propped up by American cash.
In the two years since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan following the Biden administration's withdrawal of American forces in 2021, it has become increasingly clear that the terrorist group views international assistance as a "revenue stream," according to SIGAR’s latest report.
The United States Institute of Peace recently warned the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the primary vehicle for U.S. spending in Afghanistan, that the Taliban is "pushing for ever-increasing degrees of credit and control over the delivery of aid." United Nations officials also disclosed to the watchdog that "the Taliban have effectively infiltrated and influenced most UN-managed assistance programming."
This reality is raising questions about the nearly $2 billion in funds the Biden administration has made available for disbursement in the country. As U.S. aid money flows to the country, "Taliban interference with NGO work escalated, leading to a steady decline in humanitarian access in 2023, with a 32 percent increase in incidents between January and May 2023 as compared to the same period in 2022," according to the report.
The Taliban is "comfortable accepting foreign support insofar as they can closely monitor the organizations, including restricting and controlling them, and claim some credit for the provision of the benefits," SIGAR reported. USAID told the watchdog group that "Taliban interference in humanitarian assistance is the main barrier to beneficiaries accessing aid in 2023."
The Taliban government also has not moderated its jihadi principles since seizing the country.
"Despite Taliban promises made since gaining power in August 2021 to be more inclusive, counter terrorism, respect human rights, and not pose a security threat to the region, the U.N. says that the Taliban shows no signs of bending to pressure for reform or compromise,'" according to the report.
As SIGAR and congressional oversight committees raise concerns about the Biden administration’s push to pump money into Afghanistan, the government agencies in control of these expenditures are not cooperating with investigations.
Sopko revealed in April that the "the Department of State, USAID, the U.N., and other agencies are refusing to give us basic information that we or any other oversight body would need to ensure safe stewardship of tax dollars."
"More troubling," he added, "State and USAID have instructed their employees not to talk to SIGAR, and in one recent instance, State told one of its contractors not to participate in a SIGAR audit." The White House also would not cooperate with SIGAR.
Congress has had similar experiences, with USAID declining to tell investigators what safeguards were put in place to ensure taxpayer cash is not stolen by the Taliban.