It’s ‘Getting Harder’ To Track US Progress In Afghanistan
John Sopko, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told reporters on Wednesday in Washington that it’s getting “harder and harder” for the public to track the US military’s progress after 17-year war in Afghanistan.
“What we are finding is now almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent. Over time it’s been classified or it’s no longer being collected,” Sopko said. “The classification in some areas is needless.”
He did not detail what information previously made public would be blacked out in the new report, due out this month.
The quarterly reports — which are mandated by Congress and are intended to be public documents — track waste, fraud and abuse in US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
The reports have also become an important tracking tool for territorial and population control by the Taliban.
He also said that while “we all want peace,” there are concerns that the push for a deal will overshadow critical planning needed for any agreement to have a lasting impact.
“We’ve spent close to $1 trillion in Afghanistan,” he said. “All of that is at risk if we screw up on the day after a peace agreement.”
Sopko pointed to the Afghan government’s dire financial situation, and its dependence on US assistance to pay the salaries of the country’s security forces, as a leading worry.
In part, the blame rests with the Afghan government, Sopko said. Kabul, which provides some of the information to the US Defense Department, insists that certain data not be made public.
“I don’t think it makes sense,” Sopko said. “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 only people who don’t know what’s going on is the people who are paying for all of this and that’s the American taxpayer.”
President Trump in January questioned why the reports are made public, arguing that they provided useful battlefield intelligence to the enemy.
“What kind of stuff is this?” he said during a televised cabinet meeting. “The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it…. I don’t want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary. You understand that.” Future investigations, he said, “should be private reports and be locked up.”
Sopko on Wednesday said that the rise in classification was an ongoing trend, not a result of the president’s apparent public order to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
“There’s been some changes” in the latest report, he said, but “I don’t see any direct link” to the January press conference.
“I don’t think there was any link specifically. There’s been no pushback, nothing as a result of that press conference, and I’ve talked to the other IGs about it too,” Sopko said.
Since 2008, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has probed the over $100 billion in relief and reconstruction funds spent in Afghanistan since 2002, building the security forces and civil governance institutions, providing development assistance, and running counter-narcotics and anti-corruption efforts.
The reports at times have been deeply critical. In November, SIGAR said that Afghan government control over the country was at its lowest point since 2015.