Watchdog criticizes Pentagon for making data on Afghan forces classified

Watchdog criticizes Pentagon for making data on Afghan forces classified
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The U.S. military has made classified data about the progress of Afghan forces that was previously public, the top U.S. watchdog for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan said Tuesday.

In its latest quarterly report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the classification of information related to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) will hinder its oversight mission.

“In a significant development this quarter, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) classified or otherwise restricted information SIGAR has until now publicly reported. These include important measures of ANDSF performance such as casualties, personnel strength, attrition, capability assessments, and operational readiness of equipment,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, wrote in an introduction to the report.

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“More than 60% of the approximately $121 billion in U.S. funding for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002 has gone to build up the ANDSF, so the increased classification of ANDSF data will hinder SIGAR’s ability to publicly report on progress or failure in a key reconstruction sector,” he said.

Sopko added information about the performance of Afghan forces was previously classified in 2015, but declassified days after SIGAR released its quarterly report calling out the restriction.

The now-classified information will still be available to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department in a classified annex, according to the report.

The restriction on publicly releasing the information comes as the United States is implementing a new strategy in Afghanistan aimed at turning the tide against a resurgent Taliban.

In talking about the strategy, Trump administration officials have been vague on specifics such as how many more U.S. troops will be deployed, saying they do not want to telegraph anything to the enemy.

Asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this month if he will publicly disclose information such as specific troops numbers, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon Trump expected to nominate Esper as Defense chief MORE said, “No ... if it involves telling the enemy something that will help them.”

In Tuesday’s report, SIGAR said the U.S. military has determined the now-classified information on the ANDSF’s assigned force strength, authorized force strength, attrition and causalities belongs to the Afghan government. As such, the military said, it was the Afghan government’s decision to classify it.

“According to USFOR-A, a recent legal review determined that this ANDSF data belongs to the Afghan government and therefore USFOR-A must withhold, restrict, or classify the data as long as the Afghan government has classified it,” the report said.

Meanwhile, data about operational readiness of equipment for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are now classified because military guidance says that “all materiel readiness data should be classified,” SIGAR said it was told. But such data for Afghan Air Force is not classified because it has different standards than the army and policy under the military’s classification guideline, SIGAR added.

Finally, performance assessments of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior are now also classified, according to SIGAR. The watchdog said it was told the military “is moving away” from the data typically included in those assessments and will instead be using the Afghan government’s new, multiyear “ANDSF Road Map.”