Withdrawal of troops also means withdrawal of foreign contractors: SIGAR

Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) John F Sopko this week warned that the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline does not only apply to foreign military forces, numbering around 10,000 in total, but also to as many as 18,000 foreign contractors and trainers currently in Afghanistan.

Sopko said in his latest report, SIGAR’s 2021 High Risk List, that there are “reasons to believe that without sustained support, Afghan security forces will fall apart because of a lack of personnel.”

He said as recently as the first quarter of fiscal 2021, 40 percent of the Afghan military’s logistics, maintenance and training depended upon 18,000 contractors and trainers who supplement the almost 10,000 U.S. and NATO forces in the country.

Under the terms of the US-Taliban deal signed in Doha in February last year, those key personnel are required to either stop work or withdraw along with U.S. forces.

“The Afghan government relies heavily on these foreign contractors and trainers to function,” Sopko said.

“This may be more devastating to the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces than a withdrawal of our remaining troops,” he added, noting that “no Afghan airframe can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months in the absence of contractor support.”

Sopko also said that underlying all of this, is the fact that the Afghan government still cannot sustain itself despite $143 billion in U.S. assistance to help rebuild the country and considerable aid from other donors.

“This has been a horrible waste of [U.S.] taxpayer money, in many regards,” Sopko said.

“It may not be an overstatement that if foreign assistance is withdrawn and peace negotiations fail, Taliban forces could be at the gates of Kabul in short order.”

The U.S. believes the government in Kabul is still years away from being able to oversee the $50 million payroll system that has been in development since 2016.