Although the United States military’s role in Afghanistan effectively ended in August 2021, the Government’s fraud watchdog for operations in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Recovery (“SIGAR”), continues to have an active supervisory and oversight role.
Notably, on April 30, 2022, SIGAR published is most recent quarterly report to Congress (the “Quarterly Report”). More recently, on May 12, 2022, SIGAR published an interim report regarding its findings on the Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (the “Interim ANDSF Report”). These Reports highlight the continuing types of areas of which SIGAR continues to engage in oversight.
SIGAR was established under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. Under its authorizing statute, SIGAR’s mandate includes providing leadership and coordination of policies designed to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration of programs and operations pertaining to Afghanistan reconstruction, and to prevent and detect waste, fraud, and abuse in those programs and operations. SIGAR’s jurisdiction extends beyond military programs, however, as “Afghanistan reconstruction” is applied to include any major contract, grant, agreement, or other funding mechanism entered into by any department or agency of the U.S. government that involves the use of funds appropriated or otherwise made available for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. To date, SIGAR claims that its oversight operations have resulted in savings of nearly $3.9 billion for the U.S. taxpayer.
The most recent Quarterly Report was the 55th such report prepared by SIGAR, a testament to the duration of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Despite having withdrawn forces from Afghanistan some 10 months ago, in fiscal years 2021-2022, United States agencies have continued to provide approximately $986 million in humanitarian aid. As the Department of Defense’s role has wound down, SIGAR’s recent oversight has focused on programs administered by USAID and the Department of State. Far from winding down its own operations, in the Quarterly Report, SIGAR described its current role in three major criminal investigative initiatives, collectively referred to as the “‘Follow the Money’ Capital Flight Project.” The Capital Flight Project reportedly focuses on the flight of assets and capital by Afghans, including senior government officials other politically connected individuals, upon the collapse of the government in 2021. Illustrative of its ongoing oversight role, the Quarterly Report noted that recent SIGAR audits had identified nearly $600,000 in questioned costs as a result of internal control deficiencies and noncompliance issues and, although only one new investigation launched during the reporting period, there are still a total of 43 ongoing criminal investigations related to SIGAR inquiries.
The Interim ANDSF Report provides another window in the types of oversight that SIGAR continues to provide even after withdrawal of U.S. military forces. The Report was prepared in response to directives from the House Armed Services Committee and House Committee on Oversight and Reform and its Subcommittee on National Security concerning the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in August 2021. Perhaps not surprisingly, “SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021.” (Interim ANDSF Report at 1.) Among SIGAR’s other notable findings, the Interim ANDSF Report determined that, by providing Afghan forces with sophisticated and advanced military equipment, U.S. leadership created circumstances that made Afghan forces highly dependent on U.S. contractors to maintain and operate the equipment.
Together, the Quarterly Report and the Interim ANDSF Report show that, while the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan has come to end, the United States still has a presence in and around Afghanistan. Federal contractors played a crucial role in the war effort, an effort that remains under SIGAR scrutiny. Further, contractors that support the United States’ ongoing humanitarian and other missions related to Afghanistan reconstruction should expect that SIGAR will continue to play an active oversight role.
Our team of professionals at Husch Blackwell LLP has supported contractors during interactions with SIGAR investigators over the years and will continue to monitor developments in this important arena.