Asia Defense

US Military Reverses Decision to Classify Data on Afghan Forces

The US military has performed another U-turn on releasing data on the Afghan National Security Forces.

US Military Reverses Decision to Classify Data on Afghan Forces
Credit: DoD photo by Sgt. Tammy K. Hineline, U.S. Marine Corps/Released

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has abruptly reversed a decision to classify data on the status of the Afghan National Security Forces. On January 30, the U.S. government watchdog for U.S. tax dollars spent in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), announced in its 26th Quarterly Report to Congress that it could no longer publicly report on many aspects of the $65 billion effort to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

According to the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the rationale behind the initial classification of data was the fear that it could be exploited by Taliban insurgents. However, as I listed here, one was hard pressed to discern in what way the release of information on non-combat related activities (such as literacy training for ANSF, salaries, or details on how $25 million allocated for women in the Afghan Army are used), would jeopardize the lives of U.S. and Afghan troops in the field.

Yesterday, this decision was reversed. While some data will remain classified (e.g. readiness assessments of army and police forces) around 91 percent of the data requested by SIGAR has now been declassified, according to U.S. military authorities. Stars and Stripes quotes Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesperson for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan:

“A large volume of the data requested by SIGAR, when viewed alone, is suitable for public release. However, releasable information was combined with related classified information, requiring it to be published in a classified annex. Just as we classify our own armed forces readiness reports, it is prudent for us as a reliable partner to do the same for the ANSF — especially considering that ANSF commands are now our primary source for that data and it is provided to us in a classified format. Again, Gen. Campbell has not changed his position in regard to the importance of protecting ANSF readiness data, which remains classified.”

Thus, the larger public will remain in the dark about the all-important assessments on the combat readiness of Afghan National Security Forces. However, this will also be difficult for the U.S. military command in Kabul. With U.S. forces fewer in number and relegated to advisory positions, evaluating and confirming the validity of  data received from their Afghan counterparts will be a difficult task for  NATO and U.S. forces in the years to come.

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The recent announcement is nevertheless a positive development. The New York Times quotes Alexander Bronstein-Moffly, spokesperson for SIGAR, on the decision to publicly release additional data: “Clearly, they realized they had made a mistake or that they over-classified in this case.” He also notes that the office of the inspector general is currently in the process of reviewing the recently declassified information.