The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told Politico on Wednesday that it was "inevitable" that the country’s government would collapse after the U.S. withdrew.
"There was a red light blinking on Afghanistan for years saying, "Watch out,'" John Sopko said in an interview. "Once the morale collapsed, that was it."
In an interim report released the same day, Sopko blames former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden for ending U.S. military and contractor support in the country, saying that this was "the single most important factor" in the collapse of Afghanistan's military.
A former U.S. commander who served in Afghanistan told Sopko, "We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can't function. Game over. When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up."
The report also states that the release of about 5,000 Taliban fighters in 2020 hurt morale among the Afghan military and helped the Taliban rebuild.
"We tend to think of the Afghan military as, Oh, they didn't do any fighting," Sopko said. "No — a lot of them fought and died."
He also noted that the Taliban "weaponized" uncertainty in Afghanistan after the withdrawal by claiming to have made a secret deal with the U.S. "for certain districts or provinces to be surrendered to them." That, combined with a lack of pay, led many police officers and soldiers to desert their posts.
"As much as I hate giving the Taliban any credit for anything … they did a fantastic psychological operation against the poor soldiers who are out there in the field, who haven't seen their pay, haven't seen any weapons or air support for weeks," Sopko said.
The report concluded that the U.S. lacked a "realistic understanding" of how long it would take to establish a "self-sustaining security sector" like the one created in South Korea.
"Constantly changing and politically driven milestones for U.S. engagement undermined its ability to set realistic goals for building a capable and self-sustaining military and police force," the report said. "Adapting a decades-long process to an unrealistically short timeline was reminiscent of the U.S. experiences in Vietnam."
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