Report: US military keeps key data on US-backed Afghan forces secret
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 31, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military is keeping from the public important data on Afghanistan’s security forces as insurgents continue to make gains, the watchdog for U.S. spending in the country said in a new report.
The number of Afghans in the army and police force, their casualty and attrition rates and the condition of their equipment are some of the details being kept secret, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said.
SIGAR said that blocking release of the information would hinder its efforts to gauge progress in the 16-year war.
The watchdog, which previously was allowed to publish such information, said U.S. Forces-Afghanistan had determined after a legal review that the information belonged to the Afghan government, and so “USFOR-A must withhold, restrict or classify the data as long as the Afghan government has classified it.”
Most of the roughly $121 billion that the U.S. has given Afghanistan for reconstruction since 2002 has gone to develop the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
“The increased classification of ANDSF data will hinder SIGAR’s ability to publicly report on progress or failure in a key reconstruction sector,” the SIGAR report said.
Gen. Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry said Afghan officials should decide when to release their figures and that they would continue to do so on occasion.
“Since we don’t announce any data about the foreign forces, they shouldn’t publish things about us,” Waziri told Stars and Stripes.
This is the second time the U.S. military has sought to classify information on ANDSF capabilities. In 2015 — after international combat operations in Afghanistan ended and the Taliban gained ground across the country — NATO’s Resolute Support mission restricted the answers to more than 30 SIGAR questions. Those were eventually made public.
In its latest report, released on Monday, nine questions were redacted, SIGAR said.
“For the first time in eight years, USFOR-A restricted the public release of ANDSF assigned strength figures — the number of personnel actually serving in a force element at a given time — to approximate figures,” the report said.
It said USFOR-A also classified the number of personnel authorized by the Afghan government.
“Exact assigned strength, progress toward authorized strength, attrition and casualty data are all critical for understanding ANDSF performance, readiness and mission success,” SIGAR said.
News of the restricted data came shortly after the United Nations conducted a review of its mission in Afghanistan and said a worsening security situation continued to weaken institution building and development. Its data showed a record level of armed clashes this year between Afghan forces and militants.
Afghan forces sustained 2,531 deaths and 4,238 injuries from the beginning of the year until May 8, SIGAR said in its July quarterly report. More than 6,700 deaths and 12,000 injuries were recorded among the forces in all of 2016. SIGAR described the current casualty rate, which could affect morale and lead to greater attrition, as “unsustainable.”
Elsewhere in its latest report, SIGAR warned that the Afghan government’s control over territory continues to wane.
Citing USFOR-A figures, it said only 56.8 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control or influence as of August 24, — a 1 percentage-point decline over the past six months and a more than 6 percentage-point decline from the same period last year.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.