Watchdog: Info on US progress in Afghanistan needlessly classified


Information on the U.S. military’s progress in the ongoing Afghanistan War is being needlessly classified, a U.S. watchdog said on Wednesday.

“What we are finding is now almost every metric for success or failure is now classified or non-existent. Over time it’s been classified or it’s no longer being collected,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko told reporters in Washington.

“The classification, we think, in some areas is needless.”

Ahead of the release of SIGAR’s latest quarterly report — meant to track fraud, waste and abuse in U.S. efforts in the 17-year war — Sopko hinted that information previously made public would be withheld in the new document but would not give details.

He said the trend is troublesome because “people should know how their money’s being spent, and if everything is classified the people don’t know how the money’s being spent, they can’t ask important questions like are we doing a good job or not? Should we be there or not?”

President Trump in January bashed the Defense Department’s release of the reports — required by Congress and made available to the public — when he complained to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that the practice was “insane.”

“For these reports criticizing every single thing — and even in some cases saying good, perhaps — but for these reports, to give it out, forget about the public, given out to the enemy is insane. And I don’t want that to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary, you understand that,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting.

Those comments came after SIGAR’s last quarterly report, released in November, which said that Afghan government control or influence of its districts is at the lowest point since the watchdog began tracking that data in 2015.

“I know this became a big deal at a press conference at the White House about why is this information being discussed publicly. Well, by law we have to,” Sopko said.

He added that the increased classification is not the sole result of the current administration or Trump’s recent comments, noting that once available information has been increasingly withheld over several years time.

“I don’t think there was any link specifically. There’s been no pushback, nothing as a result of that press conference,” Sopko said.

The Afghan government is also partly to blame for the withheld information, he added.

The government, for instance, requests that the number of Afghan security forces killed in action be kept classified, as well as performance evaluations for the U.S.-backed Afghan security forces, the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.

Sopko believes the secrecy doesn’t make sense as the “Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it.”

The United States has spent more than $126 billion since 2002 on relief and reconstruction initiatives in Afghanistan, including training government forces and strengthening institutions. Congress created SIGAR in 2008 to oversee such efforts.

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