An oversight office charged with keeping tabs on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan reported this week that the Pentagon is withholding from the public critical information about the US mission in the war-torn country.
In a quarterly report released on Monday, The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that certain data about the Afghan army and police was, for the first time, shielded from public view.
“The newly classified or restricted data include important measures of Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF) performance such as casualties, personnel strength, attrition, and the operational readiness of equipment,” SIGAR chief John Sopko said in the report.
He noted that such information is “critical for understanding ANDSF performance, readiness, and mission success.” Sopko added that for the first time in eight years, ANDSF force size was rounded to approximate figures instead of real numbers.
The Pentagon claimed that data now belongs to the Afghan government, and thus can’t be publicly released.
Officials have tried similar tactics in the past to obscure releasing ANDSF metrics. In a January 2015 quarterly SIGAR report, the US military classified several answers to questions about ANDSF food sources, attendance, and salaries.
Weeks later, the Pentagon changed course, and released to the public the majority of the classified information. Sopko said the data revealed that the Afghan National Army was fighting attrition, with more than 40,000 soldiers dropping out within a year.
The withholding of the previously public data this time around comes just as SIGAR is also reporting that the Afghan government is losing major swaths of land to the Taliban.
Kabul still controls more than 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts. But the Taliban is now dominating more than 13 percent of districts—up five percentage points since 2016.
In response, the US military has taken on a more active role in the country. SIGAR noted that 2,400 airstrikes were conducted by US and coalition forces in Afghanistan between January and September 2017–the most since 2014.
SIGAR also pointed to data from the United National Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which found a 52 percent rise in civilian casualties so far this year compared to last, as a result of coalition strikes.
As the war continues to rage, the watchdog has attempted to keep tabs on the $110 billion spent rebuilding Afghanistan since 2002. More than half of that assistance—roughly $60 billion—has gone directly toward building up Afghan security forces.