This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 20th 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 January 1, 2020, through March 31, 2020.
Although U.S. and Taliban representatives signed an agreement on February 29 as a first step toward ending the conflict, a number of events occurred that raised questions over whether the peace process would take place. Taliban violence continued at high levels, even during a negotiated weeklong reduction in violence that led to the agreement’s signing. The Taliban limited violence against coalition forces but increased attacks against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) during this period. The Taliban escalated violence further after signing the agreement. U.S. forces defended the ANDSF against the Taliban. U.S. officials stated the Taliban must reduce violence as a necessary condition for continued U.S. reduction in forces and that remaining high levels of violence could jeopardize the U.S.-Taliban agreement. Even still, the United States began to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from roughly 13,000 to 8,600.
A political impasse that happened after the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the September presidential election results also complicated the peace process. The IEC declared incumbent president Ashraf Ghani the winner of the election over his challenger, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah immediately disputed the results, claiming ballot fraud. After the quarter ended, the Taliban and the Afghan government made little progress toward commencing the intra-Afghan talks, which were required under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, partly due to the political dysfunction.
The coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic caused further problems throughout the country, as the Taliban continued attacks despite international pleas for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds. Global humanitarian organization and Afghan government representatives assessed that COVID-19 would severely strain the Afghan healthcare system and economy, potentially infect millions, place millions deeper into poverty, and cause roughly 110,000 deaths. U.S. and coalition forces briefly paused efforts to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces because of COVID-19 but resumed some of these efforts through telephone, e-mail, and other means.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies issued two reports relating to OFS. The investigative branches of the Lead IG agencies and their partner agencies coordinated on 97 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—the Department of Defense OIG, Department of State OIG, and U.S. Agency for International Development OIG—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.