In late December, as they do every few months, American military officials in Kabul sent a trove of data to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction for its quarterly report. Over the years, such figures have told an often dispiriting story about Washington’s enormous investment in the country’s security forces, laying out their size, readiness, attrition level and the state of their infrastructure.
Five days later, military officials followed up with an unusual request. Commanders in Afghanistan informed the inspector general’s office that they had decided to classify the bulk of that data. The decision came after the military, late last year, classified a periodic report that the inspector general has used over the years as the primary source to assess the state of Afghan forces. The stated reason? It could give the enemy the upper hand.
United States officials now say that releasing information on military aid could endanger American and Afghan lives.
U.S. Suddenly Goes Quiet on Effort to Bolster Afghan Forces JAN. 29, 2015
“With lives literally on the line, I am sure that you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Gen. John Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, wrote to the inspector general, John Sopko, on Jan. 18.
The threats that Afghan and American troops face in Afghanistan remain all too real. But it strains credulity to believe that insurgents would become more proficient fighters by poring over lengthy inspector general reports about an increasingly forgotten war. Classifying that information unreasonably prevents American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions about the returns on a $107.5 billion reconstruction investment that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan.
Mr. Sopko, a former prosecutor who takes great pleasure in needling bureaucrats, has at times gone overboard in his protests over the state of reconstruction projects. On this issue, however, he’s rightfully outraged.
“The decision leaves SIGAR for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S. taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain” Afghan forces, the agency wrote, using its acronym, in its latest quarterly report, which was issued Thursday. Mr. Sopko last year had protested the decision to restrict dissemination of a more limited set of data that would have otherwise been included in the October report. He said there was no evidence that aggregate nationwide data on Afghan military capabilities could give militants an edge.
“Its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion,” Mr. Sopko wrote in the October report.
Under the new classification guidelines, the military is not publicly reporting how many Afghan policemen and soldiers are employed, how much Washington is spending on their salaries, the state of corruption in Afghan ministries or the results of an effort to recruit more women in the army. Washington’s war in Afghanistan nominally ended at the turn of the year, when a campaign called Operation Enduring Freedom folded and a new mission, called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, began. While it’s tempting to think that Americans troops and taxpayer dollars are no longer at war in Afghanistan, they very much are. More than 10,000 American troops are there training and supporting the Afghans.
The Obama administration has pledged to continue spending billions to keep the Afghan government afloat for years. Americans are entitled to the unvarnished truth about that daunting effort.