John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), told US Congress on Wednesday that US officials routinely lied to the public during the 18-year war by exaggerating progress reports. Sopko was summoned to speak in response to the Washington Post's recent release of formerly classified documents, known as the Afghanistan Papers.
"There's an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue. . . mendacity and hubris," Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”
As an example, he said that US officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they "knew the data was bad."
Sopko cited a 2014 agency newsletter, where the then-USAID administrator stated: “Today, 3 million girls and 5 million boys are enrolled in school—compared to just 900,000 when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan,” he said.
US sent personnel into Afghanistan who did not know the difference between al-Qaeda and Taliban and who lacked any substantive knowledge of Afghan society, Sopko said.
He also said that the abuses committed by coalition-aligned warlords drove many Afghans into the arms of the resurgent Taliban.
“For all the lives and treasure the US and coalition partners have expended in Afghanistan, and for Afghans themselves who have suffered the most from decades of violence, the very least we can do is to learn from our successes and failures,” he said.
“Oversight is mission critical to any successful reconstruction and development program in Afghanistan,” he added.
The US also inadvertently aided the Taliban’s resurgence by forming "alliances of convenience" with warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban, according to SIGAR report.
He said that in the future, “we need to recognize vital importance of addressing corruption from outset. This means taking into account the amount of assistance host country can absorb and ensuring that agencies can more effectively monitor assistance.”
“While honesty and transparency are always important, when government agencies overstate the positive and overlook flaws in their methodologies or accountability mechanisms, it has real public policy implications,” he said.
On peace, Spoko said: “We know that a stronger Afghan economy is necessary to lasting peace and stability, and, without it, US reconstruction efforts are largely unsustainable.”
Recently sources close to the peace process say Taliban leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada has agreed to a seven-day reduction of violence in Afghanistan on condition that a peace deal is signed.
The Taliban leader has said that the reduction of violence in major cities of Afghanistan will be implemented once the US signs the peace deal, which must include a plan for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the sources said, quoting Taliban officials.
Since 2001, the US has spent more than $132 billion to modernize the country — more than it spent--adjusted for inflation--to rebuild Europe after World War II, according to the Washington Post.