What we know about Taliban rule in Afghanistan, classified documents about the U.S. war

It's been two-and-a-half months since the Afghan government's collapse and the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. Since the U.S. withdrawal, the country's economy has cratered, and a major humanitarian crisis is underway. The threat of famine looms and the hard afghan winter is on its way. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson was in Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal, and joins Amna Nawaz with more.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's been 2.5 months since the Afghan government's collapse and the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. The U.S. withdrew days later, and, since, the economy has cratered, and a major humanitarian crisis is now under way. The threat of famine looms, and the hard Afghan winter is on its way.

    Our Jane Ferguson was in Kabul for the chaotic U.S. withdrawal. She's back there now. And she joins us tonight.

    Jane, it's good to see you. Thanks for being there.

    I have to ask. This is your first time back in Kabul since the fall of the Kabul government, the Taliban retaking over. What's it like? What do you notice?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    So far, Amna, it has been an eerily quiet situation in the streets. You can see that commerce is vastly down. There's the usual traffic jams and bustling markets are really rapidly disappearing.

    The first thing I noticed coming out of the airport, other than the truckloads of Taliban fighters everywhere, was the complete lack of women in the street, almost none seen at all in public spheres. But what was also striking since we have arrived has been the sense that, although the Taliban technically control this city, there isn't a sense that they have taken over a government.

    There doesn't appear to be a robust administration. Checkpoints are scattered and rather haphazard. There's a feeling in the city that it's occupied by a militia, but not necessarily run by one.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jane, back here in the States, there's a new report out from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction detailing the cost of the final months of the war for the U.S. and also more details about what equipment was left behind and what was destroyed.

    What did we learn from that?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It is a real reminder of just how expensive this war has been for the United States.

    We know it's been over a trillion dollars throughout the 20 years. But SIGAR, the special investigator, has been putting out reports throughout over 10 years now throughout the war, about the cost, and they're really looking into corruption or any issues surrounding accountability.

    So, this most recent report has been laying out things like the fact that aircraft had to be destroyed at Kabul Airport before it could be abandoned to make sure that the Taliban couldn't take over, that all aircraft and armored vehicles had to be sabotaged on the way out, those that couldn't be couldn't be flown out of the country.

    About 25 percent of the Afghan air force planes themselves were flown out by pilots who were midair during the takeover of the country. And in a country that's facing famine, you really do feel the starkness of where money has been going here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Jane, there's another detail from that special inspector general, a man named John Sopko. He had some very strong words in his speech directed at the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

    He said that they unnecessarily classified his group's reports after the Kabul government fell.

    Take a listen to what he had to say.

  • John Sopko, Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstruction:

    That information almost certainly would have benefited Congress and the public in assessing whether progress was being made in Afghanistan, and, more importantly, whether we should have ended our efforts there earlier.

    Yet SIGAR was forced to relegate all of this information into classified annexes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jane, what do we know about what was classified and why?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    One clue, Amna, could be the end-of-2019 Washington Post report that was called "The Afghanistan Papers," where they had to take the SIGAR to court under the Freedom of Information Act to get that very information that had been classified.

    Much of it was based around interviews with senior figures in the war, who had actually given much more pessimistic views, much more pessimistic outlooks as to how the war was going, compared with the statements that were being made by the Department of Defense and the Pentagon.

    So, the point was that, basically, behind the scenes, SIGAR was gathering information that showed that there were there was a lot of dissent as to how this war was going. That's an indicator.

    But we have also heard from SIGAR within this speech that essentially they're calling on that they have heard from the State Department even after the fall of Kabul for them to pull down information from online that's available to the public.

    So this is an ongoing row about what should be made public and what shouldn't.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jane, you mentioned the economic crisis, the looming famine, as the winter approaches.

    What is needed on the ground? Is there any chance that aid will make its way in?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    What we're seeing, Amna, is that some aid is coming in and being distributed to people, but it's extremely complicated, and it's patchy.

    Don't forget, this is a government now that is technically seen by the United States and various governments around the world as a terrorist organization. So, getting aid to civilians and avoiding giving any of it to the government is actually causing even more difficulty.

    And on top of the dire economic collapse and the complex situation of getting aid into the country throughout in Afghanistan, that has massively impacted agriculture. Wheat production, the harvest of this year is down a third. Now, that, of course, is going to push up prices. And any authorities that exist in Afghanistan right now will be struggling to buy wheat from outside the country because many of their assets, $9.5 billion internationally, have been frozen.

    So this will mean that there's going to be a huge shortage of wheat, basically, bread that would have been keeping millions alive. Now the WFP says upwards of 14 million Afghans face starvation if they don't get aid or jobs this winter.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Jane Ferguson back on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan, reporting for us tonight.

    Jane, good to see you. Please stay safe.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Thank you.

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