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John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction attends a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on  Jan. 20, 2016. Sopko said Thursday, April 30, 2020, that the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has stopped releasing information on enemy attacks amid a spike in violence that followed February's U.S.-Taliban peace deal.
John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction attends a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2016. Sopko said Thursday, April 30, 2020, that the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has stopped releasing information on enemy attacks amid a spike in violence that followed February's U.S.-Taliban peace deal. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is for the first time withholding information about enemy attacks in Afghanistan from the public, as violence rises in the country and the U.S. begins drawing down its troops, a U.S. government watchdog said Friday.

Casualty figures among U.S.-trained and funded Afghan security forces have also been classified, adding to a growing list of data that’s been restricted or is no longer tracked, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a quarterly report to Congress.

Enemy attack information, which was used to measure security in Afghanistan, “was one of the last remaining metrics” provided to SIGAR for public release, the watchdog said in the report. The U.S.-led NATO Resolute Support mission told SIGAR it is withholding the information because it’s become a critical part of discussions in ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban, the report said.

The Defense Department may release the data once those discussions end, according to the report.

Instead of providing SIGAR with enemy attack information, including successful attacks, Resolute Support said that in the month following the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal, attacks by the insurgents on coalition forces decreased but those on Afghan security forces were at levels beyond “seasonal norms,” the report said.

The U.S. has begun withdrawing its forces as part of the deal signed with the Taliban, which would see all international troops out of Afghanistan by late spring 2021, provided the Taliban meets all of its obligations under the agreement. Those include beginning negotiations with the Kabul government, disavowing terror groups like al-Qaida and preventing any groups on Afghan soil from threatening the security of the United States and its allies.

But the Taliban ramped up attacks on Afghan forces immediately after signing the deal on Feb. 29, SIGAR chief John Sopko wrote in the report.

“Although not all such attacks are expressly prohibited by the text, U.S. officials had said they expected the level of violence to remain low after the agreement came into effect,” Sopko wrote.

Under the deal, the U.S. began drawing down from about 13,000 troops to 8,600. But despite more than $86 billion in U.S. security assistance funding, Afghan security forces remain deeply dependent on U.S. and coalition forces. Even elite special operations troops needed support from international forces on about half of their ground operations during the first three months of 2020, SIGAR said.

Within days of the Feb. 29 deal being inked, U.S. aircraft bombed the insurgents in defense of Afghan forces, but it remains unclear whether the U.S. has carried out further strikes. NATO officials in Kabul have declined to discuss the matter with Stars and Stripes. They also have not published a tally of U.S. airstrikes for the month of March.

U.S. officials have declined to discuss what would constitute a violation of the deal, and some observers fear the U.S. will bury or ignore information that might jeopardize the pact. In an Foreign Affairs magazine article last month critiquing the agreement and highlighting difficulty Washington will likely face in enforcing it, former Afghanistan commander and CIA director David Petraeus wrote that U.S. decision-makers have a tendency “to downplay or disregard information that threatens to upend” a favored relationship or policy.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @pwwellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.
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