WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has stopped providing data on which parties control territory in Afghanistan, removing one of the last remaining public metrics that tracked the worsening security situation in the 28-year war.
In a report released Wednesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the U.S. military has told them it was no longer tracking the level of control or influence the Afghan government and militants had over districts in the country.
The reason, according to the report: The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan said the assessments were “of limited decision-making value to the (RS) Commander.”
In the last SIGAR report, as of October 2018, the government in Kabul controlled 53.8 percent of the districts, while the rest was under the influence of the Taliban and, to a lesser extent, other anti-government groups. This was down from late 2015, when Kabul and its allies controlled 72 percent of Afghanistan.
The statistics are known as “district control data.”
“This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time (SIGAR) has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ to the American taxpayer,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, said.
Resolute Support officials said that withholding the data was a “human error” resulting from using terms differently.
“It was not the intent of Resolute Support to withhold or classify information which was available in prior reports,” Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesperson for Resolute Support, said in a statement. “A human error in labeling occurred. The data is not classified and there was no intent to withhold it unnecessarily.”
In November 2017 Gen. John Nicholson — then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan — said he wanted to see that district control data by Kabul increase to at least 80 percent, with the Taliban holding only about 10 percent and the rest contested. “And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance,” Nicholson said then.
His successor, Gen. Scott Miller, dismissed the need for the assessments, saying others exist. That tracks the position articulated by President Donald Trump, who has accused the Pentagon of giving away too much war information.
“Some IG goes over there, who are mostly appointed by President Obama — but we’ll have ours, too — and he goes over there, and they do a report on every single thing that’s happening, and they release it to the public,” Trump told reporters in January. “What kind of stuff is this? We’re fighting wars, and they’re doing reports and releasing it to the public? Now, the public means the enemy. The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it.”
Trump looked at Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and said, “I don’t want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary.”
U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in October 2001. Since then the U.S. spent an estimated $737 billion on the conflict and reconstruction efforts, while more than 2,400 U.S. personnel have been killed.