The Department of Defense has suddenly stopped reporting the budget details of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to the independent agency which oversees military spending in the country, citing risk sensitivity in a subject area where it has freely shared information for six years.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has provided extensive figures for years on American work in the country. But in SIGAR’s latest quarterly report to Congress, issued Thursday, many key numbers used to gauge U.S. effectiveness were moved to a classified appendix.
Despite a withdrawal set for the end of 2014, over 9,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan to help train the Afghan National Security Forces. According to the report, all Pentagon information on ANSF “strength, attrition, equipment, personnel sustainment, infrastructure, and training” is now classified, leaving SIGAR unable to provide public data on $65 billion worth of programs as innocuous as teaching Afghan troops to read.
The New York Times has suggested that the high rate of Afghan troops who leave military service through injury or desertion could be “demoralizing,” while noting that “the potential for embarrassment is not considered a legitimate rationale for classifying information.”
In other words, the sudden change in policy is more likely a political move than a question of security — since by comparison, U.S. and Afghan officials are relatively open about other aspects of the American support mission in Afghanistan, including the timetable for full withdrawal.
In a press release, SIGAR listed several questions that the Pentagon refused to answer, including “How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used?” and “Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior.”
Instead, the report is restricted to a handful of top-level budget categories, such as “transportation” and “police training and operations.”
The report also points out the Afghan government’s $500 million budget deficit and 11 percent spending increase in the reporting period, which the U.S. helped cover with a $100 million loan.
Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, said in a letter reprinted in the report that he “cannot comment” on the reason why Afghan Security Forces budget details were “unclassified in the past,” though he is committed to “protect the lives of those individuals who could be put at risk by the release of sensitive information.”
Nevertheless, Campbell wrote, he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations.”
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