Pentagon: Public Can No Longer Know Who Actually Controls Afghanistan


Note: The Pentagon said Tuesday afternoon that the data was classified in error. The story has been updated below.

The Trump administration is keeping secret basic information about who actually controls Afghanistan, despite significantly ratcheting up airstrikes in the country.

An independent watchdog overseeing the War in Afghanistan said Tuesday that it is now being asked by US military officials to refrain from publishing data about contested territory.

“For the first time, this quarter [Operation Resolute Support] restricted the public release of district, population, and land-area control data that they had provided,” said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The information had been made previously made available in a publicly-releasable format “for the last two years,” SIGAR noted. The watchdog said that the metric “had been one of the last remaining publicly available indicators…of how the 16-year-long US effort to secure Afghanistan is faring.”

The additional secrecy is being imposed amid an intensification of US military support operations ordered by President Trump. Last year, the US Air Force dropped 4,361 weapons on the country—the most since 2012.

“[T]hese actions have yet to increase the Afghan government’s control over its population,” SIGAR said in an email to journalists.

A previous report on territorial control had shown stagnation in the Afghan government’s fight against Taliban forces, amid an uptick in Afghan military casualties from insurgent operations.

Tuesday’s update also noted that exact Afghan “force strength and attrition data” is now being withheld by the Pentagon. Details about the same information had been shielded from public release in the October 2017 quarterly SIGAR report.

Under the Obama administration, the military classified some data about the strength of Afghan military forces, but it walked back the move weeks later.

UPDATE: A military spokesperson said that the data about territorial control was kept secret due to “human error.”

“The data is not classified and there was no intent to withhold it unnecessarily,” said Capt. Tom Gresback, according to Bloomberg.

Roughly 56 percent of Afghanistan is controlled by the central government, 30 percent of the country is contested, and 13 percent is controlled by the Taliban.

The balance of power is roughly the same as it was when SIGAR issued its last quarterly report in October–though that update noted the Afghan government had lost 5 percent of the country’s territory to the Taliban in the 12 months beforehand.

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Since 2010, Sam Knight's work has appeared in Truthout, Washington Monthly, Salon, Mondoweiss, Alternet, In These Times, The Reykjavik Grapevine and The Nation. In 2012, he worked as a producer for The Alyona Show on RT. He has written extensively about political movements that emerged in Iceland after the 2008 financial collapse, and is currently working on a book about the subject.


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