Afghan Military Forces Collapse Due to Ghani’s Policies and U.S. Reliance, SIGAR Reports

By: Fahim Amin

For two decades, the international community has provided money and assistance to the Republic of Afghanistan, yet its structure fell apart on August 15, 2021. This breakdown has prompted discussion at both the national and international levels. Former President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, and U.S. officials have been pointing fingers at one another for the Taliban’s rise to power and the collapse of the republic. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) of the United States recently released an investigation that examined the internal and external factors that led to the collapse of the military forces of the former Afghan government. This report identified administrative corruption in Afghanistan, ethnic distinctions, frequent changes in the army’s command structure brought about by the supreme commanders of the Afghan armed forces, and Ghani’s lack of focus on critical national issues as internal factors weakening the military capabilities of the nation. External factors for the collapse of the Afghan military forces include their reliance on foreign troops, their poor performance, the Doha Agreement, which overlooked the demands of the negotiating team representing the Afghan government, the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan, and the lack of U.S. political transparency in the country’s political affairs.

SIGAR released an insightful report on Tuesday, February 28, titled “Why did the Afghan security forces collapse?”. The report found that, as Afghanistan’s security situation worsened, former President Ghani replaced senior security personnel and chose most of the commanders from within the Pashtun community, particularly the Ghaljaiz from eastern Afghanistan. This behavior has been referred to as “political ethnicization” in favor of the Pashtuns by the U.S. special investigator, and it is believed to have weakened the morale and power of the Afghan security forces in the face of the Taliban’s violent attacks.

According to a former Afghan government official cited by the Special Inspector General, Ashraf Ghani was suspicious of the Afghan military forces following the signing of the Doha Agreement between the United States of America and the Taliban, as he believed Washington was plotting to overthrow him violently. One theory suggests that Ghani replaced the military officers who had received U.S. training in the weeks leading up to the regime’s collapse with communist generals he deemed to be loyal to him.

Amrullah Saleh, President Ghani’s first deputy, is also mentioned in this report. A former interior minister of Afghanistan informed SIGAR that Amrullah Saleh had informed Ghani that the U.S. forces’ planned withdrawal from the country was a U.S. conspiracy approximately five days before Ghani’s escape. This is true, however, in another section of the report, it is stated that a number of American government representatives, including members of Congress, have communicated with Ashraf Ghani unofficially. This has reinforced Ghani’s erroneous perception of the U.S. military’s troop pullout from Afghanistan.

According to SIGAR’s findings, the political rivalry between Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah had exacerbated tensions between Pashtuns and Tajiks, which was one of the factors weakening the Afghan security forces. Additionally, SIGAR highlighted the competition between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns, noting how the political parties lost their unity and divided into two distinct groups following the 2017 presidential election (Ghani supporters and Abdullah supporters). The Independent Election Commission declared Mohammad Ashraf Ghani the winner of this election, which was one of the most contentious presidential elections in Afghanistan. The election’s controversies continued into the autumn.

Former government officials who spoke with the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that Ashraf Ghani was preoccupied with regional and minor issues rather than critical and national ones. Hikmat Karzai, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told SIGAR that the provinces were losing ground while Ghani was devoting hours to National Procurement Council and urban planning sessions. Additionally, Massoud Andrabi informed SIGAR that no soldier was willing to risk their life for Ghani, as no one wanted to sacrifice their life to protect someone who had come to plunder the country.

External Factors of the Afghan Military Forces Collapse

The collapse of the Afghan military forces has been attributed to Washington’s decision to withdraw U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan. According to SIGAR’s findings, the Taliban were able to gain the upper hand over the Afghan military even after the gradual departure of U.S. soldiers. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani reportedly came to the realization that his country’s military forces needed the logistical support of the United States just four months before the fall. For the past two decades, the Afghan government has been reliant on supplies from abroad.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has found that the United States’ policy on military presence in Afghanistan has been neither transparent nor clear. Former United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis was quoted in the report as saying that he was ultimately uncertain of what to do, whether to attack or retreat. The report also raised the question of whether or not United States military forces will remain in Afghanistan in the coming year.

The Doha Agreement had a significant impact on the morale of Afghan military forces, according to the military commanders of the former regime. They reported that the soldiers’ morale had dropped so low that all they wanted to do was survive. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report also states that after the U.S. and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement on February 29, 2020, the U.S. military reduced its support for the Afghan forces. The SIGAR report further states that the U.S. forces conducted 7,432 airstrikes against the Taliban in 2020, compared to 1,631 airstrikes in 2019 following the signing of the agreement.

The United States failed to heed the requests of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, according to the Special Inspector of the United States of America, who wrote in a section of their analytical report that Washington concluded negotiations with the Taliban without taking the demands of the previous Afghan government into account. This report claims that Washington kept Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in the dark about the details of the Doha agreement, unaware of the shift in the U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan. An Afghan army general told the Special Inspector that the recent change in the U.S. strategy toward the Taliban had left Afghan soldiers uncertain of when American forces would come to their aid, which was the cause of their increasing mistrust of the United States.

According to a SIGAR analysis, the United States of America had prepared the Afghan military forces in such a way that they were unable to act independently. Although they had completed various training courses, they were unable to reach the level of capability of independent forces. SIGAR attributed this to the lack of cooperation between Washington and Kabul.

Mohammad Ashraf Ghani eventually departed Kabul, leading to the collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan‘s system, which had been sustained for two decades by international financial aid and NATO military aid. In his television interviews and tweets, Mr. Ghani defended himself and impliedly referred to his departure from Kabul as aconspiracy“. He highlighted the fact that he was removed from the castle in such a way that he was not even allowed to change his shoes. He was reportedly the last official of the previous government to leave Kabul. Additionally, the former leaders advised people not to believe claims that Ghani had fled Afghanistan to save his life. According to Mr. Ghani, the Doha Agreement signed by the United States of America and the Taliban was a major factor in the downfall of his government. He also stated that the United States of America had been dishonest with him.

Since Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan, the provisions of the Doha Agreement have not been implemented, according to Zalmai Khalilzad, the former Special Representative of the United States of America for Afghanistan Affairs, who acted as a mediator between the U.S. State Department, the Afghan government, and the Taliban leaders. Mr. Khalilzad has referred to the Doha Agreement asthe ideal framework for solving Afghanistan‘s difficulties“.

For more than eighteen months, the Taliban have been in control of Afghanistan and have claimed that the United States of America has not yet fulfilled the conditions of the Doha Agreement. On the second anniversary of the Agreement, Sohail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban political office based in Qatar, commented that this deal marked a turning point in Afghanistan‘s history and that future generations would remember its benefits. He further noted that the Taliban have not been sanctioned and the current government has not been recognized, among other provisions of the agreement that call for the removal of the names of the Taliban group’s leaders from the UN‘sblacklist,” the removal of the list of U.S. prizes, and more generally, the removal of their names from the list. He emphasized that the United States should pay attention to this and said that not implementing these measures goes against the Doha Agreement‘s essence.