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SIGAR warns of continued threat – with or without peace



(Last Updated On: March 10, 2021)

The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warned on Wednesday night that security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan and with or without a sustainable peace agreement and nationwide ceasefire, Afghanistan will likely continue to be threatened by multiple violent-extremist organizations.

Presenting SIGAR’s 2021 High-Risk List to US Congress, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

These issues could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country to provide counterterrorism support and to train, advise, and assist Afghanistan’s security institutions, his report stated.

He said that in keeping with SIGAR’s statutory mandate to promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency, the High-Risk List identifies serious risks to the United States’ $143 billion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

He also pointed out that this report is issued at a time when peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are stalled amid continuing high levels of violence, putting the reconstruction effort at greater risk than ever before.

“As we note in this report, whether or not the United States continues to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan pursuant to last year’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, the new Administration and Congress will have to decide whether and to what extent reconstruction will continue.

“Although Afghanistan’s leadership have often stated that their goal is self-reliance, Afghanistan today is nowhere near to being self-reliant – especially in funding its government operations, including military and police – from its own resources.

“And, as highlighted in our report, reconstruction aid helps keep Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist safe haven,” Sopko said.

He stated that “today the gains from our nation’s investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction face multiple threats: continued insecurity, uncertain post-peace settlement funding, the challenge of reintegrating fighters, endemic corruption, lagging economic growth and social development, threats to women’s rights, the illicit narcotics trade, and inadequate oversight by donors.”

He also pointed out that the level of violence has increased, including not only attacks against Afghan security forces, but also bomb attacks on civilians and targeted assassinations of mid level officials, prominent women, and journalists.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming Afghanistan’s health sector and having a severe impact on its economy and people, he stated.

Sopko said this report is “intended to provide an independent and sober assessment of the various risks now facing the Administration and Congress as they seek to make decisions about the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.”

The High-Risk List focuses on elements of the US reconstruction effort in Afghanistan that are essential to success; at risk of failure due to waste, fraud or abuse; and subject to the control or influence of the US government.

Key Factors

By using these criteria, SIGAR identified eight high-risk areas:

• Increasing Insecurity
• Uncertain Funding for a Post-Peace Settlement
• The Need to Reintegrate Ex-Combatants
• Endemic Corruption
• Lagging Economic Growth and Social Development
• Illicit Narcotics Trade
• Threats to Women’s Rights
• Inadequate Oversight

The report stated that while security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan because the Taliban have not significantly changed their tactics, high levels of violence, or political objectives, and terrorist groups in Afghanistan such as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K/Daesh) and al-Qaeda remain in the country.

“With or without a sustainable peace agreement and nationwide ceasefire, Afghanistan will likely continue to be threatened by multiple violent-extremist organizations.

“Any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

“These issues could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country to provide counterterrorism support and to train, advise, and assist Afghanistan’s security institutions,” the report read.

It also noted that the long-term danger for Afghan women is that Afghan peace negotiations break down, plunging the country into worse violence. “Women and girls suffer not only loss of life, injury, disability, and mental trauma, but also the loss of male breadwinners, increasingly desperate poverty, the social stigma and discrimination that accompany widowhood and permanent disability, and reduced access to basic services.”

The SIGAR report also noted that there are between 55,000 and 85,000 Taliban fighters and that depending on the terms of a peace agreement, some Taliban fighters will be integrated into the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces; while others will need to transition to productive noncombatant status in civil society.

According to SIGAR, Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant on foreign assistance – specifically with donor grants that total at least $8.6 billion per year which currently finances almost 80 percent of Afghanistan’s $11 billion in public expenditures.

“Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events there as foreign troops depart and risks to a potential peace if they reduce assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict,” the report read.

SIGAR also warned that the Afghan government’s limited fiscal capacity may be inadequate to sustain the infrastructure, such as roads, reliable power generation, and economic supply chains.

“The Afghan government’s lack of financial sustainability is an issue affecting all high-risk areas identified by SIGAR,” the report read.

SIGAR also noted that the detrimental effects of the illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan does not only affect the health system but also helps fund insurgents, foster corruption, and provoke criminal violence.

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghanistan’s opium economy has remained resilient. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghanistan’s 2020 opium-poppy harvest was largely uninterrupted by COVID-19,” the report read.

Another key risk factor was government’s failure to effectively address systemic corruption in Afghanistan.

SIGAR stated the Afghan government has taken limited steps to curb systemic corruption, but more tangible action is required.

“The Afghan government often makes “paper” reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than taking concrete actions that would reduce corruption, like arresting or enforcing penalties on powerful Afghans.”

Sopko meanwhile stated that regardless of the course chosen by the US, SIGAR, as the largest oversight presence in Afghanistan and the only one with whole-of-government authority, will remain the best US defense against the waste, fraud, and abuse of US taxpayer funds in Afghanistan.

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Guarded by ex-inmates, Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi Prison lies deserted



(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s infamous Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, which once housed thousands of Islamic Emirate forces and Daesh fighters in its sprawling compound on the outskirts of Kabul, today stands virtually empty, except for the remnants of prisoners’ belongings and discarded documents.

On August 15, as the Islamic Emirate drove into Kabul following the fall of the previous government, the gates to the prison were flung open – ending in some cases years of incarceration for many detainees.

The once heavily fortified facility is now guarded by former inmates – Islamic Emirate members – and only a small section is used for new inmates, alleged criminals and drug addicts arrested in the past month.

A walk through the deserted cell blocks is a stark reminder of the recent changes in the country.

In some cells, personal items that once belonged to prisoners lie forgotten about, and discarded documents are testimony to the unexpected collapse of the former Ashraf Ghani government.

In parts of the prison, signs of the Islamic Emirate flag remain, as does the black flag of Daesh.

One former prison guard, Safiullah, told Ariana News: “There is no one, you can see, they have generally destroyed many places and left.”

While the majority of political prisoners were Islamic Emirate members, no differentiation was made when the gates opened. As a result hundreds of Daesh fighters also fled, as did some hardened criminals.

During the walk through of the facility, Safiullah also pointed out areas that were used for specific purposes.

“This was a Madrasa where the Islamic Emirate’s Qaris [teachers] were teaching students to memorize the Holy Quran. We set up this Madrasa for them,” Safiullah said.

One former inmate, an Islamic Emirate member Mohammad Salim, in turn pointed out the section used by prison guards to mete out punishment.

“They punished us here; they tied our hands here and punished us and beat us here,” said Salim.

Islamic Emirate authorities have however said that they are working to recapture and return some former inmates – especially hardened criminals – to the facility.

Pul-e-Charkhi has a long, disturbing history of violence, mass executions and torture.

Mass graves and torture cells were uncovered dating from the Soviet-backed governments of the late 1970s and 1980s and under the former government it was known for poor conditions and overcrowding.

The prison’s 11 cell blocks were built to house 5,000 inmates, but were often packed with more than 10,000, including political prisoners and hardened criminals.

Some of the Taliban now guarding the site were former inmates while the former guards have fled.

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UN envoy, Haqqani discuss urgent need for humanitarian aid



(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Deborah Lyons, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, has met with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the new acting interior minister, to discuss much needed humanitarian relief for Afghanistan.

Suhail Shaheen, an Islamic Emirate spokesman, said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday: “(Haqqani) stressed that UN personnel can conduct their work without any hurdle and deliver vital aid to the Afghan people.”

Afghanistan was already facing chronic poverty and drought but the situation has deteriorated in the last month with the disruption of aid, the departure of tens of thousands of people including government and aid workers, the freezing of foreign reserves and the collapse of much economic activity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international aid conference this week that Afghans were facing “perhaps their most perilous hour”.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said that in the Wednesday meeting Lyons had stressed the “absolute necessity for all UN and humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan to be able to work without intimidation or obstruction to deliver vital aid and conduct work for the Afghan people.”

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Baradar says reports he was hurt in internal clashes are false



(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s acting deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar appeared in a video interview posted on Wednesday and denied reports that he was hurt in a clash with a rival faction of the Islamic Emirate.

“No this is not true, I am OK and healthy,” Baradar said in an interview with state TV which was posted on Twitter by the Islamic Emirate’s political office in Doha.

“The media says that there is internal disputes. There is nothing between us, it is not true.”

The brief clip showed him seated on a sofa next to an interviewer with an RTA state television microphone in front of him, apparently reading from a sheet of paper.

Earlier, an official from the cultural commission said on Twitter that the interview would be shown on RTA TV to disprove “enemy propaganda.” Islamic Emirate officials have issued repeated denials in recent days that Baradar had been hurt.

The denials follow days of rumors that supporters of Baradar had clashed with members of the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Islamic Emirate based near the border with Pakistan and blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.

Baradar, one of the founding members of the Islamic Emirate and once seen as the likely head of government, had not been seen in public for some time. He was not part of the ministerial delegation which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.

In the clip, he said he had been on a trip when the visit took place and had not been able to get back in time.

On Wednesday, Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the newly appointed Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, also issued a statement on Twitter denying reports of internal rifts in the movement.

The rumors follow speculation over rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the United States.

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