This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 19th quarterly report detailing the overseas contingency operation. The report summarizes significant events involving OFS and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work. This report covers the period from October 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019.
The conflict in Afghanistan remains at a “strategic stalemate,” according to the Department of Defense. The United States restarted peace negotiations on December 7. At the same time, the Taliban continued its strategy of fighting while participating in negotiations. As a result, 2019 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since OFS began in 2015. While the frequency of attacks remained high this quarter, the proportion of attacks in which people were killed or injured decreased. U.S. forces reported that this may signify that the Taliban is conducting smaller-scale attacks in an effort to conserve forces.
This quarter, pressure from coalition and Afghan forces, as well as from the Taliban, drove the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K) to abandon its historical stronghold in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. More than 300 ISIS-K fighters and their family members surrendered, while most of the other fighters fled the province. President Ashraf Ghani declared ISIS-K “obliterated” in Nangarhar, but ISIS has shown—in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and Syria—the ability to adapt, move underground, recruit, and remain a threat.
U.S. and coalition forces continued their mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces, but the combination of changing and unclear measures the coalition uses to assess progress hampers the ability to track long-term developments.
In addition, as the peace negotiations with the Taliban continued, China, Russia, and Iran also diplomatically engaged with both the Afghan government and the Taliban. As our report describes, all three countries share some interests with the United States in Afghanistan, such as countering ISIS-K, but each pursues disparate interests that at times conflict with U.S. interests.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies and our oversight partners issued four reports relating to OFS. The investigative branches of the Lead IG agencies and their partner agencies coordinated on 94 open investigations, involving allegations of procurement and grant fraud, corruption, computer intrusions, and human trafficking.
Operation Freedom’s Sentinel began on January 1, 2015. U.S. forces conduct two complementary missions under OFS: 1) counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, and their affiliates in Afghanistan; and 2) training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces through the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each IG retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of these overseas contingency operations.