This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 22nd 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 July 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020.
On September 12, the Afghan Peace Negotiations began when the Afghan Islamic Republic negotiating team met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Initial talks focused on procedural rules and both sides agreed to most points. However, negotiations stalled by the end of the quarter as they reached an impasse over the relationship of the talks to the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the school of Islamic jurisprudence that would be used to resolve disputes between the two sides. At the same time, the Taliban increased its attacks against Afghan forces, leading to “distressingly high” levels of violence that could threaten the peace agreement.
The United States continued its conditions-based withdrawal of military and non-diplomatic civilian personnel from Afghanistan, one of its commitments under the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed on February 29. The United States met its commitments to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 and to withdraw from five bases in Afghanistan by July.. Since July, the United States continued a steady reduction military personnel, and then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the United States would have fewer than 5,000 military members in Afghanistan by the end of November. At that point, the United States will pause troop reductions and assess the situation. The United States committed to withdraw all remaining troops by May 1, 2021, if the Taliban upholds its commitments
The Afghan government struggled with its coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19) pandemic response this quarter. The Afghan Ministry of Public Health declared that the pandemic had reached its peak and had been controlled, even as there were 39,000 active cases at the end of the quarter and nearly a third of the Afghan population had been infected amid widespread complacency and failure to follow public health guidance. COVID-19 testing never exceeded 1,200 tests per day and dropped to 400 per day by the end of the quarter, due to staffing and supply shortages.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies issued seven reports relating to OFS. As of September 30, 2020, 35 projects related to OFS were ongoing and 21 projects related to OFS were planned.
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 Office of Inspector General (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.