U.S. military officials in Kabul have classified important metrics that detail for the public the overall health and progress of Afghan security forces, according to a recent government watchdog report.
“The newly classified or restricted data include important measures of ANDSF performance such as casualties, personnel strength, attrition, and the operational readiness of equipment,” the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, report reads.
According to the report, for the first time in eight years, SIGAR was forced to round approximate force strength numbers and authorized total strength figures.
Other data that was deemed classified includes attrition rates and casualty figures for Afghan security forces.
“Exact assigned strength, progress toward authorized strength, attrition, and casualty data are critical for understanding ANDSF performance, readiness, and mission success,” the report reads.
According to SIGAR, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, or USFOR-A, deemed the information as belonging to the Afghan government after completion of a legal review, “therefore USFOR-A must withhold, restrict, or classify the data as long as the Afghan government has classified it,” the report states.
“USFOR-A also classified information on the operational readiness of ANDSF equipment for the first time this quarter,” the report adds.
SIGAR also claims USFOR-A did not provide the watchdog group with performance assessments on the Ministry of Defense or Ministry of Interior, which highlights progress and benchmarks being met within these government entities.
USFOR-A told SIGAR that it was “moving away from tracking POAMs (Plan of Action and Milestones) to assess progress of Afghan institutions” and instead will focus its assessments on the MOI and MOD through the new Afghan road map instituted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani this year.
According to SIGAR, this is the second time USFOR-A has sought to classify information that was previously releasable to the public. The first time was in 2015, but the bulk of those were declassified a few days later, according to SIGAR.
Based on last quarter’s assessment in July, Afghan forces sustained 2,531 killed in action and 4,238 wounded from Jan. 1 to May 8.
The metrics recently deemed classified by U.S. military officials in Kabul are important to provide a picture of the overall health and progress of Afghan security forces.
After spending nearly $70 billion in the reconstruction of the Afghan military, those forces have been beset by ever growing casualties and lost ground to a resurgent Taliban force since taking over responsibility for their country’s security in 2015.
U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, have publicly supported and argued for a new strategy in Afghanistan that calls for increasing U.S. troops on the ground by several thousands and bolstering Afghan forces with new offensive capabilities to include UH-60 Black Hawks.
Moreover, according to the FY 2018 request for funds for Afghan forces, they are set to receive yet another increase in security assistance, from $4.2 billion last year to $4.9 billion this year.
Much of the increase is due to a new road map by the Ghani administration to double the size of the 17,000-strong Afghanistan Special Forces and commando units. Those recapitalization plans call for bolstering the Afghan Air Force with 159 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters over the coming years and additional AC-208s, MD-530s and six more A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.
The additional funds are also to help Afghan forces rebuild and repair lost and damaged equipment stemming from last year’s battlefield losses. Afghan forces have been beset by large losses since 2015, and sensitive U.S. equipment to include night vision devices, weapons, and up-armored Humvees have ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
According to the latest assessment by SIGAR, Afghan government control of territory and population is at its lowest point since the watchdog group has been reporting district and population control figures in 2015.
Afghan forces control 56.8 percent of the the 407 districts, which is a 1 percentage point drop over the past six months, while the Taliban gained control over an additional nine districts over the past six months.
Moreover, the Afghan government controls only 63.7 percent of the population, a far cry from Gen. John Nicholson’s stated goal of 80 percent, which he touted before lawmakers in February.
Military officials have told Military Times previously that U.S. air assets at times have been forced to destroy stolen U.S. equipment, including Humvees that are frequently used as powerful vehicle-borne suicide improvised explosive devices.
However, as U.S. officials push for a renewed strategy that calls for even more U.S. hardware, troops and financial aid, military officials are deciding to classify metrics. The metrics assist the public in debating whether taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely in a war that is now in its 17th year.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.