Withdrawing thousands of U.S. defense contractors from Afghanistan by the end of next month may be "more devastating" to Afghan forces than an American troop pullout, a U.S. government watchdog has warned.
The May 1 date was set for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and nondiplomatic civilian personnel, including U.S. defense contractors, in a deal last year between the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump and the Taliban.
The assessment by John Sopko, the special inspector-general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), came as the current administration of U.S. President Joe Biden presses the Afghan government and the Taliban to consider a proposed peace accord while reviewing the February 2020 agreement amid surging violence.
As of October, there were more than 18,000 defense contractors in Afghanistan, including 6,000 Americans and 7,000 third-country nationals, Sopko told an online forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Their departure “has been largely ignored” as attention focuses on whether President Joe Biden will withdraw the last 2,500 U.S. soldiers, Sopko said.
He explained that 40 percent of contractors maintain equipment, manage supply chains, or train Afghan security personnel on advanced U.S.-supplied equipment.
Sopko said that contractors ensure 100 percent of the maintenance for the Afghan Air Force’s Blackhawk helicopters and C-130 cargo planes.
Without them, “no Afghan airframe can be maintained as combat effective for more than a few months,” he added, quoting a new Pentagon assessment.
A shortage of trained Afghan personnel and the departures of U.S. troops and contractors "will negatively impact Afghan security forces, threaten the Afghan state and imperil our own national security interests if Afghanistan should further destabilize," he warned.
Contractors' Pullout Could Have 'Devastating' Impact On Afghan Forces, Says U.S. Watchdog