U.S. Military Classifying Assessments of Afghan Military

The U.S. military has begun classifying its summaries of the Afghan national security forces’ capabilities, an action which denies the public insight into their readiness as the U.S. withdraws most of its troops by year end, according to a government watchdog.

The U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization joint command’s decision to classify the reports “is a significant change” that leaves his office “without a critical tool to publicly report on development” of the 335,000-man force, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in his latest quarterly report issued today.

Sopko’s office has routinely reported on the assessments as indicators of the effectiveness of U.S. and coalition efforts to build, train, equip and sustain the force as the U.S. draws down to 9,800 troops from 19,650 today.

Classifying the summary “deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort,” he wrote.

The classification of the report was re-evaluated in August “to address potential concerns about operational security,” according to an ISAF statement from Marine Corps Major Bradlee Avots, a Pentagon spokesman.

“After careful review, it was determined that the entirety of the report was classified to include the executive summary which contained Afghan-provided readiness information,” ISAF said. “We have a responsibility to protect data that could jeopardize the operational security of our Afghan partners to include unnecessarily highlighting possible vulnerabilities and capability gaps.”

$61.5 Billion Approved

The U.S. Congress through this year has approved $61.5 billion to equip and train Afghan security forces,with $48 billion disbursed as of Sept. 30. In contrast, the U.S. has spent $20 billion training and equipping Iraq’s security forces.

The Afghanistan reconstruction effort has cost American taxpayers a total of $109 billion since fiscal 2002, compared with $103.4 billion, adjusted for inflation, for the 1948-1952 Marshall Plan for Europe, according to Sopko’s quarterly report to Congress in July.

The coalition uses the classified “Regional ANSF Status Report” to provide a monthly, unit-level update on readiness, long-term sustainability, and associated shortfalls.

“These assessments provide both U.S. and Afghan stakeholders -- including the American taxpayers who pay the costs of recruiting, training, feeding, housing, equipping, and supplying Afghan soldiers -- with updates on the status of these forces as transition continues and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security,” Sopko wrote.

‘Synthesized Analysis’

According to the forward of the coalition’s classified report, the summaries presented a “synthesized analysis of observations and identified shortfalls, highlighting main findings and most pressing issues that hamper ANSF long-term sustainability.”

While the readiness data on Afghan units is classified, the results of the country’s security forces’ operations are “well-documented, to include leading security operations since June 2013,” ISAF said in its statement.

Sopko said his office’s reporting “has been taken from the executive summary at an aggregated corps level, not at an operational or tactical level that might be of use to Afghan insurgents’ attack planning.”

Given those limits, he wrote, “it is not clear what security purpose is served by denying the American public even high-level information.”

Limit Information

Until the ANSF assessments are again unclassified, Sopko said his office “will report on developmental progress and/or shortfalls from other sources.”

This isn’t the first such effort to limit information about the progress made in training Afghan forces, whose ability to battle the Taliban remains unclear as U.S. and other NATO forces depart.

Several years ago, the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan resisted a proposal by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to do a classified assessment of the Afghan forces’ progress, according to a U.S. intelligence official who participated in the deliberations.

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