Afghan assistant auditor accuses state, USAID of withholding info

The congressional watchdog for US aid to Afghanistan has accused the State Department and the US Agency for International Development of illegally withholding information about the US withdrawal from the country last year and current policies.

Amid an argument over what the Biden administration said was an overly critical report on the US withdrawal, Afghanistan Reconstruction Special Superintendent John Sopko said the State Department and USAID had refused to cooperate with his personnel. in violation of the law that created the agency.

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The allegations were leveled by Sopko’s separate letters to lawmakers and to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and by Sopko’s General Counsel to each agency’s top attorneys. The letters were obtained by The Associated Press.

The State Department did not deny that it had broken cooperation with the watchdog. But it complained that the special inspector had not given the administration a chance to respond to its latest report on the withdrawal released last month.

The department said the report was unfairly negative and did not reflect the government’s view of events surrounding the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover.

In his letters, Sopko was blunt and asked for immediate action from Congress, Blinken and Power to restore the partnership his office has had with their agencies in the past.

“I respectfully request that you direct state and USAID officials to cease their illegal interference with SIGAR’s oversight work and provide requested information and assistance without delay,” he wrote to Blinken and Power.

Sopko said his staff had requested numerous documents and interviews with officials involved in last July’s chaotic withdrawal and aftermath, but had been blocked for several months. He said those requests related to information about the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan nationals, as well as ongoing humanitarian aid and questions about whether that aid could be turned over to the Taliban.

“It is now clear that offices and staff who have cooperated with similar requests in the past have been silenced or drowned out by officials who opposed SIGAR’s independent oversight,” Sopko wrote.

State Department spokesman Ned Price had no immediate response to the allegations in the letters, but expressed his dismay at the latest report, which concluded that the withdrawal had been mismanaged and that the collapse of the Afghan government and the army had not predicted correctly.

“Our view is that the report does not reflect the consensus view of the State Department or the US government,” Price told reporters. “Many parts of the US government, including the State Department, had unique insights and developments in Afghanistan last year that were not captured in the report, and we disagree with many aspects of the report.”

In addition, Price said the special inspector did not request input from the State Department during the preparation of the April report and did not give the department an opportunity to review the draft before it was published.

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