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Emails show State Department did not cooperate with Afghan probe, internal government watchdog says

A State Department spokesperson had said the watchdog, SIGAR, “did not request input" from the department when it drafted a May report on the Afghan military’s collapse.
John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 11, 2020.
John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 11, 2020.Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images file

In an ongoing dispute with the State Department, the government's watchdog for Afghanistan has produced a timeline and released emails to show that it repeatedly asked State for information on the collapse of the Afghan military but never got it.

John Sopko, who runs the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said last week that two Biden administration agencies, the State Department and USAID, had told their staffers not to provide information or communicate with SIGAR, which is responsible for tracking waste and corruption.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded by saying that SIGAR “did not request input from the State Department" when drafting a May report on the military's collapse, "nor did they afford us an opportunity to review the draft before it was finalized, as had been a regular process for other reports.”

On Wednesday SIGAR said that Price’s statement “as recorded in the State Department’s publicly posted transcript, is not accurate.”

“SIGAR repeatedly sought the State Department’s participation in the study, from the beginning,” said the watchdog, which released a series of emails between SIGAR and State to support its assertion. “SIGAR also sent a copy of the draft report to the State Department and requested comments prior to issuing the report. The State Department declined to comment.”

SIGAR said that on Oct. 1, 2021, it had notified the Defense Department, State and USAID — which is overseen by the secretary of state — of five reviews it was launching at the direction of Congress, and identified what each review was intended to evaluate.

In February, SIGAR said that it “contacted a senior State Department employee to arrange an interview to obtain information,” but was informed the department’s legal counsel had told personnel “not to participate in any SIGAR interviews until further notice.”

SIGAR said it submitted a draft of the Afghan military report to State for comment on April 20. The report was made public in May.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “For the State Department to refuse to cooperate with a congressionally mandated watchdog … is wrong, and it’s in direct violation of President Biden’s promise that ‘watchdogs have been welcomed back’ in his administration.”

Sopko wrote last week that State and USAID historically have complied with requests for information from SIGAR, which was established in 2008, and that no other administration had ever questioned SIGAR’s jurisdiction. “Inexplicably, this long track record of cooperation seems to have abruptly ended,” he said. “Agency officials now appear to have adopted a premeditated position of obstruction.”

Information from State and USAID dried up months ago, according to three congressional officials and a government official familiar with the process. Biden administration officials argued that the U.S. is no longer involved in reconstruction in Afghanistan, so SIGAR is outside the inspector general’s jurisdiction, the officials familiar with the process said.