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White House Won’t Say How It Spent $1 Billion in Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

State Department stonewalls watchdog looking into taxpayer funds

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2021 / Getty Images
• November 11, 2022 4:12 pm

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The State Department says it will not comply with a government watchdog’s investigation into how more than $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds was spent in Afghanistan since the Taliban terror group retook control of the country.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government watchdog established in 2008 to perform oversight on America’s $146 billion reconstruction project in the war-torn country, announced that for the first time in its history, the State and Treasury Departments will not comply with its investigations.

"SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this U.S. government spending due to the non-cooperation of U.S. agencies," the watchdog disclosed in its latest report to Congress. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which allocates American aid, "and the Treasury Department refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department was selective in the information it provided pursuant to SIGAR’s audit and quarterly data requests."

SIGAR says the Biden administration’s refusal to cooperate with its investigation into the allocation of $1.1 billion in taxpayer funds since the Taliban regained power constitutes a "direct violation" of the watchdog group’s congressional mandate. The administration also is withholding evidence related to the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, as well as information about whether the State Department is complying with laws prohibiting the transfer of American funds to the Taliban. "No federal agency has challenged SIGAR’s authority to conduct oversight of such programs until now," the watchdog agency said.

The standoff is the latest controversy surrounding the Biden administration’s botched 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan, which left 13 Americans dead and thousands more stranded in the Taliban-controlled country. The administration also has stonewalled congressional investigations into the matter, including probes into its decision to abandon around $7 billion worth of advanced American military equipment inside Afghanistan.

"After more than a decade of cooperation, State, and USAID have for months now refused to provide SIGAR with information and assistance needed for several audits and Congressionally mandated reviews" into the "collapse of the U.S.‐backed government in Afghanistan," the report says. These agencies are also withholding information pertaining to their "compliance with laws and regulations prohibiting the transfer of funds to the Taliban."

A State Department official further "informed SIGAR that department staff have received internal direction to not engage with or speak to SIGAR without prior clearance from State legal counsel," a directive that violates laws meant to protect government whistleblowers and protect SIGAR’s investigation power, according to the report.

The State Department maintains that SIGAR is overreaching its jurisdiction and that it is not legally required to comply with any information requests that pertain to the $1.1 billion allocated for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. A July 8 letter sent to SIGAR by the State Department outlines these concerns, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.

"Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the United States has stopped providing assistance for the purpose of the reconstruction of Afghanistan," the State Department told SIGAR, arguing that the watchdog group’s mandate is narrowly tailored just to projects falling under this category. "Since August 2021, the United States has dramatically changed the nature and scope of its activities in Afghanistan to focus instead on humanitarian aid and targeted assistance designed to help meet basic human needs and avoid complete and imminent economic collapse."

A SIGAR official confirmed the agency received the letter but declined to comment further on the matter.

A Treasury Department spokesman would not comment on SIGAR’s accusations of stonewalling, saying only that it "has complied with all legal requirements and shared information with SIGAR."

SIGAR, in its report, disputes the State Department’s claims about its mandate, writing that most aid programs still being run "are continuations of activities performed prior to August 2021," when the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan. To this date, SIGAR says, "State and USAID have not articulated how these programs have changed in practice."

Congress, the watchdog group adds, "was clear when it granted SIGAR jurisdiction in its 2008 enabling legislation over all reconstruction spending in Afghanistan, including development and humanitarian aid."

SIGAR has reported on humanitarian aid projects since 2008 and has included these projects in each of its 57 quarterly reports to Congress.

When asked about the dispute earlier this month, State Department spokesman Ned Price made clear that U.S officials will block SIGAR’s oversight efforts.

"Our position is that, except for certain specific funds, SIGAR’s statutory mandate is limited to funds available for, quote, ‘the reconstruction of Afghanistan,’" Price said. "SIGAR’s current work does not appear to fall under its statutory mandate to oversee the funds for, quote, ‘the reconstruction of Afghanistan.’"