US classifies spending, stats on Afghan forces

Previously public information on the U.S. taxpayer-funded salaries, training and equipment costs for Afghan security forces is now considered classified.

Basic details that have been reported for years, such as the number of Afghan troops in uniform or the cost of U.S.-funded infrastructure projects, will as of this month no longer be publicly available, officials say.

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Classification of this volume is "unprecedented," according to John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR). The watchdog responsible for the 13-year U.S. mission in Afghanistan noted the change in its latest quarterly report to Congress, released Thursday.

It comes a month after President Obama marked the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. About 10,000 U.S. troops remain in the nation.

Lawmakers are questioning the change in policy.

“With few exceptions, the public’s business ought to be public. It’s a matter of accountability for spending and making sure the taxpayers get their money’s worth," Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Top GOP senator: Drug pricing action unlikely before end of year Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock MORE (R-Iowa) said in a statement to The Hill.

"Suddenly classifying information that was public for years raises questions. Military leaders should work with the inspector general to balance legitimate security concerns with the public’s right to know how the money is being spent," he added.

The U.S. has set aside $107.5 billion to spend in Afghanistan since 2002, including $65 billion for security. As of the end of last month, around $15.3 billion remained for infrastructure projects and to train local security forces.

Information on taxpayer funds used in Afghanistan will now only be made available in annexed form to members of Congress with high-level security clearance, as well as to Secretary of State John Kerry and the secretary of Defense, currently Chuck Hagel.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts MORE (D-Mo.) said she was "offended" that the previously unclassified information will no longer be made publicly available.

“Public access to this information is one of the most powerful tools we’ve got to ensure we’re holding our government accountable, and these reports remain as vital as ever to oversight of taxpayer-financed Afghan infrastructure,” she said in a statement.

The New York Times first reported the change.

The military initially gave SIGAR the data for its report near the end of December, but within days notified the watchdog that it wanted to classify it retroactively. After some pushback, most of the data remained classified.

Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commanding officer for the new U.S.-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, defended the decision to classify the data in order to save lives.

In a Jan. 18 letter to the watchdog, Campbell wrote, "we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks."