Pentagon watchdog says news from Afghanistan ‘bleak’ and government could face ‘existential crisis’

·13 min read

A ‘BLEAK’ ASSESSMENT: The quarterly reports of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction are usually a lagging indicator of what’s happening in the war-torn country, given that they cover a three-month period that ends a month or two before the report is submitted to Congress.

But the latest report released this morning includes an updated preface from Special Inspector General John Sopko, who paints a dire picture of the predicament facing the Afghan government in the wake of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal and an accelerated Taliban offensive.

“The news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter has been bleak,” Sopko writes. “The overall trend is clearly unfavorable to the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if it isn’t addressed and reversed.”

Sopko noted that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters last week that the Taliban now controlled about half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts, and he cited media reports that they also control large stretches of multiple major highways and at least six international border crossings.

“The ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] has retaken some districts and the Afghan government still controls all 34 provincial capitals, including Kabul, but from public reporting, the ANDSF appeared surprised and unready, and is now on its back foot,” Sopko said, adding, “Civilian casualties hit a record high in May and June, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”

A LITANY OF BAD NEWS: Among the report's findings:

Afghan Army spooked: Most members of the Afghan National Army are refusing to fight unless they are backed by the country’s elite special operations commandos, according to NATO’s Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan. “The command reported that when ANASOC forces arrive, they are misused to perform tasks intended for conventional forces such as route clearance, checkpoint security, and quick-reaction force.”

Air Force overtaxed: The Afghan Air Force, touted by the U.S. as a key tactical advantage over the Taliban, is overstretched and breaking down. “All of the Afghan Air Force’s aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions, and aerial resupply now that the ANDSF largely lacks U.S. air support.”

The departure of U.S. aircraft maintenance contractors has led to sharp decreases in readiness rates for five of the seven airframes in the Afghan Air Force, according to Training Advisory Assistance Command-Air. “The AC-208 fleet, for example, had maintained a 93% readiness rate in April and May, but dropped to 63% in June. The UH-60 fleet was at 77% in April and May, but dropped to 39% in June.”

Humanitarian crisis worsens: As Afghanistan is hit with a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, infection rates skyrocketed by around 2,400%, with the delta variant responsible for approximately 60% of the country’s new infections, according to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. “According to the U.N., the number of Afghans requiring humanitarian assistance in 2021 has reached approximately half of Afghanistan’s total estimated population. This figure is nearly double that of 2020, and a six-fold increase compared to four years ago.”

Customs revenue lost: The Taliban has cut into a key source of government revenue by its seizure of a string of border crossings in Herat, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces that account for 34% of the Afghan government’s total customs revenues.

SOPKO SPEAKS: Sopko is scheduled to talk to reporters at 9 a.m. at a Defense Writers Group event sponsored by the George Washington University Project for Media and National Security.


Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Victor I. Nava. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense.


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HAPPENING TODAY, THE RETURN OF MASK MANDATES: The initial word came from deputy press secretary Jamal Brown late yesterday, who released a memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks outlining the department-wide return to masking.

"Deputy Secretary Hicks has directed that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings at Department of Defense installations and facilities in areas of substantial or high transmission, as defined by the CDC, to protect against rising COVID-19 cases.”

The memo directed people to a CDC site to determine whether they were in an area of the country that was experiencing “substantial or high transmission” of COVID cases. For example, Arlington County, Virginia, where the Pentagon is located, is not rated a “hot spot” with only “moderate” levels of community transmission, while Washington, D.C., is rated “substantial.”

But despite not qualifying as a hot spot under CDC guidelines, later in the evening, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management mandated masks for all facilities considered part of the Pentagon Reservation, with four exceptions:

  1. when an individual is alone in an office with floor-to-ceiling walls and closed doors

  2. for brief periods of time when eating and drinking while maintaining at least 6-feet distance

  3. when the mask is required to be lowered briefly for identification or security purposes

  4. when necessary to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability

Masks will be provided at Pentagon entrances for workers and visitors who don’t have one.


NAVY COVID DEATHS: The Navy announced that two sailors, both in their late 40s, have died of complications from COVID

Capt. Corby Ropp, 48, an active-duty Navy doctor, died July 23 at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, and Master-at-Arms First Class Allen Hillman, 47, died on July 26 in Boise, Idaho.

The Navy did not disclose their vaccination status, but USNI News reported neither one was vaccinated.

NOT A MANDATE: President Joe Biden is expected to announce today a requirement that the nation’s 2.2 million civilian federal workers along with 1.4 million active-duty military personnel show proof they’ve received a coronavirus vaccine or face frequent testing.

The policy falls just short of a mandate in the sense that unvaccinated people would not face dismissal or any punishment for failing to get inoculated, but it would make their workday lives more complicated with the requirements for regular testing, stringent social distancing, masking, and travel restrictions.

If you count federal contractors and Postal Service employees, the new guidance would affect more than five million people.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Meanwhile, pressure is building on the Biden administration to intensify the effort to determine if the COVID-19 pandemic had its origins in the Wuhan Institute of Virology or other associated facilities in China.

Four senators have written to Biden urging him to take several steps to “to get to the bottom” of the controversy. The letter, signed by Republicans Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, and Democrats Bob Menendez and Mark Warner, calls on Biden to prioritize a thorough investigation until there is a conclusion with a high degree of confidence, work with allies to pressure China, and review U.S. government support or funding of collaboration with China on gain-of-function, synthetic biology, and biotechnology research.

“A full and impartial investigation that carefully considers all credible theories, backed by all available evidence, is critical,” the letter says. “This includes theories suggested in an open letter by 18 distinguished experts to Science Magazine on May 14, 2021, which argued that ‘theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable.’"


OVERRULING BIDEN ON SHIPBUILDING: As the various House Armed Services subcommittees began marking up the House version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, it's become increasingly clear that the Biden shipbuilding plan has been judged inadequate by both Democrats and Republicans.

“As you all know well, the president’s budget arrived with an unexpected cut in the program of record for one of our core battle force platforms, the DDG-51 destroyer, and in addition, did not include the near or long term plans that we rely on to guide the investments Congress, the Navy, and industry must make in the future fleet,” said Connecticut Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.

Courtney called the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers “one of our most capable and flexible surface combatants” and noted that the committee joined the Senate in restoring funding for a second destroyer. “I am frustrated that this is the second year that Congress has had to act to restore a major unfunded priority that was unexpectedly removed from the budget.”

Ranking Republican Rob Wittman of Virginia accused the Biden administration of “dithering” while China sprints forward. “China already has the world’s largest Navy, and with the world’s largest shipbuilding industrial base, China can quickly accelerate during times of instability and conflict,” said Wittman.

“But, if we are serious about deterring future conflict, I think that we need to significantly boost our maritime capabilities and support the Trump administration’s goals of rapidly expanding naval shipbuilding.”

INTEL AUTHORIZATION ADVANCES: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the 2022 Intelligence Authorization Act yesterday on a bipartisan 16-0 vote.

“The funding and authorities provided in this bill will increase the intelligence community’s ability to detect and counter cyber threats, ransomware attacks, and other emerging threats, including those from near-peer adversaries such as China and Russia,” said Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

Ranking Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said, “In addition, the bill prioritizes the committee’s ongoing oversight of China’s malign influence operations, unidentified aerial phenomena, and importantly, the safety of the men and women of the intelligence community, by expressly addressing the likely directed energy attacks that have inflicted brain injuries and the associated symptomology known as the ‘Havana Syndrome,’ as well as other physical harms, on American personnel around the world.”

INDUSTRY WATCH, BOEING BOUNCES BACK: Boeing has posted its first quarterly profit in almost two years, reporting earnings of $567 million on second-quarter revenue of $17 billion.

The company credited higher commercial airplane and service volume and “continued progress on global safe return to service of 737 MAX.”

Chief Executive Officer David Calhoun told employees that Boeing plans to maintain a workforce of around 140,000. Previously the company had targeted a reduction to 130,000 by the end of 2021.

“While we still have a ways to go before a full rebound, it is encouraging to see the commercial market improving, enabled by continued vaccine distribution and increasing travel demand, particularly in domestic markets,” Calhoun said.


The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Defense Department reissues mask mandate for COVID-19 hot spots

Washington Examiner: Biden moves to speed up asylum claims in step toward overhaul of immigration system

Washington Examiner: Blinken meets WHO director-general to push investigation in coronavirus origins

Washington Examiner: Bipartisan group of senators demand 'thorough review' of US funding for Chinese gain-of-function research

AP: As Tensions With China Mount, U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Vietnam, Vows Support For Region

Reuters: Pentagon Chief Seeks To Nudge Ties With Vietnam As Human Rights Concerns Linger

USNI News: Destroyer Makes 7th U.S. Navy Taiwan Strait Transit in 2021

USNI News: CNO Gilday: Keeping Littoral Combat Ships Nimble Key to Pacific Deployments, No Plans for 1st Fleet in Singapore

Air Force Magazine: Boeing Back to Profitability, Takes No Charge on KC-46 in Second Quarter

Air Force Magazine: VanHerck: SPACECOM ‘Critical’ to Latest High-Tech Exercise, but Hurdles Remain The U.S. Is Making One Thing Clear: China Must Back Off on Taiwan Why Is China Massively Expanding Its Nuclear Weapons Arsenal? Taiwan Couldn’t Stop a Chinese Invasion — But They Could Put Up an Epic Fight

Washington Examiner: Opinion: From the Taliban with China love



9 a.m. — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conversation with Mr. John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

10 a.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. — American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in-person event: “America’s ever-shrinking fighting force,” with Mackenzie Eaglen, senior fellow, AEI; Arnold Punaro, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and CEO, Punaro Group; and former Sen. Jim Talent, senior fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center.

3:30 p.m. — Washington Post Live virtual discussion: “Securing Cyberspace,” former Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, partner at the Krebs Stamos Group.


8:30 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual 11th annual South China Sea Conference, with Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va.; Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; and Nguyen Nam Duong, deputy director-general of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam's East Sea Institute.


8 a.m. — The virtual Aspen Security Forum, Day 1, with Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation; retired Gen. David Petraeus, former director, Central Intelligence Agency; Roya Rahmani, Afghan Ambassador to the U.S.; Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; and more. See full agenda and register at

9:15 a.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual Spacepower Forum: “The SASC version of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, particularly its implications for the Space Force, with South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, and Matt Donovan, director of the Mitchell Institute Spacepower Advantage Research Center. Video posted afterward at

12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report webinar: “Army Climate Change Initiatives,” with Jack Surash, performing the duties of the assistant Army secretary for installations, energy and environment; and Amy Borman, deputy assistant Army secretary for environment, safety and occupational health.


8 a.m. — The virtual Aspen Security Forum, Day 2, with Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies; Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs; Adm. John Aquilino, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; Stephen Biegun, former deputy secretary of state; Matt Pottinger, former deputy national security adviser; Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; and more. See full agenda and register at


8:45 a.m. — Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress virtual discussion: “Transforming the U.S. Military for an Era of Great Power Competition,” with Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

10 a.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual Nuclear Deterrence forum with Gordon Chang, East Asia expert, and author of numerous books on China; and Rick Fisher, senior fellow on Asian Military Affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Video posted afterward at


“The news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter has been bleak … The overall trend is clearly unfavorable to the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if it isn’t addressed and reversed.”

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in his latest quarterly report to Congress

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Original Author: Jamie McIntyre

Original Location: Pentagon watchdog says news from Afghanistan ‘bleak’ and government could face ‘existential crisis’

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