Citing security concerns, the U.S. military in Afghanistan has now deemed as classified specific statistics about Afghanistan’s security forces that for years it routinely provided for public release to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says providing that kind of information could help the Taliban in planning attacks and creates security risks for the 10,600 U.S. troops serving as trainers in Afghanistan.
For six years, the SIGAR has produced regular reports that track the progress of the $65 billion the United States has spent to build Afghanistan’s infrastructure, development and security forces. Those reports have included information about the Afghan security forces such as troop numbers, attrition rates, salaries, training and equipment.
The latest quarterly report released today includes that information in a classified appendix available only to government officials with a high enough security clearance.
"I am deeply concerned with the implications of this sudden classification decision and have raised it with the appropriate officials," said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, explained his decision to classify the information in a letter to Sopko.
He wrote that while he could not comment “upon the precise reason why certain information was considered unclassified in the past, I can advise that given the risks that continue to exist to our forces and those of Afghanistan, I have directed that sensitive operational information or related materials, that could be used by those who threaten the force, or Afghan forces, be classified at an appropriate level.”
He added, “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,” wrote Campbell.
The 10,600 American troops remain in Afghanistan as part of a two year training mission known as Resolute Support. U.S. troops will remain on their bases to continue training Afghan security forces though a portion of them are Special Operations forces able to conduct counter terrorism missions when needed.
Campbell wrote that he fully supports SIGAR’s role, “However, I am compelled to also protect the lives of those individuals who could be put at risk by the release of sensitive information."
According to SIGAR, Campbell’s command provided classified or restricted responses to 140 questions including some seeking definitions for the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.”
Among other things it also sought the total amount of funding the U.S. has spent on food for the Afghan Army and on the salaries for Afghan National Police that came from a specially created fund.
Beginning in 2009, the Pentagon began providing twice a year reports mandated by Congress that tracked the overall security situation in Afghanistan as well as the progress of Afghan security forces. Those publicly available reports included similar information that had been provided publicly to SIGAR in the past.
However, the last of those reports was released in October with the pending end of the combat mission in Afghanistan in December.