Post-Taliban mission was not a failure, despite scathing U.S. report, Afghan ambassador to Ottawa says
Ottawa- The Globe and Mail, Michelle Carbert, December 23, 2019
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada says the post-Taliban mission in the country was not a failure, after an investigation revealed U.S. officials did not tell the truth about the war and hid evidence that the mission was becoming unwinnable.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Hassan Soroosh said the conclusions drawn from the Afghanistan papers are “simplistic” and fail to consider the “undeniable progress” the country has made since the U.S.-led mission began in 2001.
“I disagree with some of the conclusions drawn from the papers from some analysts who basically described the entire post-Taliban international engagement as a failure and called for a disengagement on Afghanistan,” Mr. Soroosh said at the Afghanistan embassy in Ottawa.
Mr. Soroosh pointed to improved access to education – especially for girls – health services and infrastructure as examples of the advancements Afghanistan has made since 2001, saying the country is in a “completely different place.” He said it does a “disservice to the collective efforts and sacrifices made in Afghanistan” to characterize the mission and subsequent international assistance efforts as a failure.
The U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan was launched in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. Canada served as part of the mission until 2014, losing 158 soldiers in Afghanistan, and has donated billions in foreign aid to the country.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported on 2,000 pages of confidential U.S. government documents, including interviews with generals, diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials, examining the root failures of the war.
The Afghanistan papers were produced by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an agency established in 2008 to investigative waste and fraud in the war zone. One U.S. Army general is reported by the Post to have told government interviewers in 2015 the U.S. was “devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Mr. Soroosh acknowledged the “insufficient attention” paid by international allies to “some realities on the ground” in Afghanistan. For instance, he said allies lacked an understanding of the regional dimensions of the Afghan conflict, failing in the first few years of the war to recognize that there were terrorist networks outside of the country.
“The fact that there were sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan was not recognized by many partners. And now it is an established fact that there is a huge support infrastructure for terrorist networks outside of Afghanistan and that there is a growing nexus between terrorism, narcotics and organized crime,” the ambassador said.
International and Afghan officials also struggled to co-ordinate their long-term approach to stabilization, reconstruction and development programs in the country, Mr. Soroosh said, leading to duplication of efforts by donor countries. He said some international aid projects were built without consulting Afghan officials.
“Some of the programs initially were quick impact in nature, so they were carried out under a tight timeline and without attention to the realities on the ground.”
Last year, The Globe reported on another SIGAR document that showed billions of dollars in Western foreign aid to Afghanistan, including from Canada, had been lost to widespread waste, lax oversight and endemic corruption. The report said aid money has gone to build medical clinics without electricity or water, schools that children didn’t attend and buildings that melted away in the rain.
Although Canada does not independently audit the money it puts into trust funds for international aid, U.S. Special Inspector-General John Sopko said last year he is certain the problems he identified for U.S. taxpayer-funded projects are the same for Canadian ones.
Asked if Canadians can trust their tax dollars are not being wasted in Afghanistan, Mr. Soroosh said “definitely.” He said Afghan officials have improved their co-ordination with international partners, including Canada, so they can better align aid dollars with Afghanistan’s needs.
The Canadian government has never done a complete review of its role in Afghanistan. David Mulroney, a former deputy minister who was responsible for a task force that oversaw interdepartmental co-ordination of Canada’s engagement in the country, said a review is “overdue.”
“In fact, now would be the right time to do it,” Mr. Mulroney said earlier this month, adding one of his “greatest hopes” was that there would be a look at the mission to explain why Canada went where it did and how it performed.