This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 24th 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, 2021, through March 31, 2021.
Upon taking office, the Biden Administration announced a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. This review ultimately informed the President’s decision to begin withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan on May 1 and completing the withdrawal by September. This new timeline resulted in the United States delaying the original withdrawal deadline of May 1, which was part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020.
The Taliban increased its attacks against Afghan government forces this quarter while continuing to avoid targeting U.S. and coalition troops. The Taliban initiated 37 percent more attacks this quarter than during the same period in 2020. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Taliban maintained close ties with al-Qaeda and was very likely preparing for large-scale offensives against population centers and Afghan government installations. This quarter also saw dozens of targeted killings of Afghan civilians, including government officials, teachers, journalists, medical workers, and religious scholars. Although the Taliban denied that it was attacking civilians, U.S. and Afghan officials accused the Taliban of using targeted assassinations to destabilize the population and discredit the Afghan government.
Peace talks between the Afghan Islamic Republic and Taliban negotiating teams failed to make any significant progress this quarter. Increased insurgent violence across the country and unmet Taliban demands for prisoner releases and the removal of international sanctions prevented the two sides from finalizing an agenda. In February 2020, the Taliban had committed to begin these peace talks in March, but negotiations did not convene until September, and basic procedural rules were not agreed to until December. As of the end of this quarter, the two sides had not finalized an agenda.
The DoD continued to conduct most of its efforts to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces virtually this quarter due to the coronavirus-2019 pandemic. The DoD said it was planning ways to provide "over-the-horizon" support to the Afghan forces after the withdrawal is completed.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies issued 12 reports relating to OFS. As of March 31, 2021, 39 projects related to OFS were ongoing and 14 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.