The Pentagon’s New Afghanistan Policy—Way More Secrecy
Tracking wasteful spending just got harder
It’s suddenly become more difficult to learn anything about America’s 9,800 troops staying behind in Afghanistan, and how the Pentagon is spending billions of taxpayer dollars on reconstruction.
The U.S. military ended transparency of Afghanistan’s security forces in January. Losing that means losing sight of the United States’ many successes … and failures.
On Dec. 29, 2014 the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction did what it always does, it asked for information. Part of SIGAR’s job is to put together reports for Congress on various elements of the reconstruction.
Five days later, the new NATO-led Resolute Support Mission emailed SIGAR to let it know that it was classifying the bulk of the information requested. In particular, RSM decided to classify much of the data on Afghanistan’s military.
“The classification of this volume of data for SIGAR’s quarterly report is unprecedented,” stated the watchdog’s recent report to Congress.
“The decision leaves SIGAR for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the Afghan National Security Forces.”
U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell—commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan—wrote a letter to the agency claiming the classification was a security issue. He doesn’t want SIGAR publishing anything about the Afghan military’s troop strength or deployment.
“With lives literally on the line,” he wrote. “We must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces.”
SIGAR published a list of the questions it asked RSM, which the military either classified or restricted the answers to. But many questions do not appear to be a matter of life and death. Rather, it seems the inquiries might reveal something embarrassing.
To be sure, Campbell and RSM should do everything in their power to keep American and Afghan troops safe. A public report about troop strength and attrition rates could conceivably hinder the mission.
“I am committed to maximum transparency,” Campbell wrote in his letter.
RSM classified a lot of responses to SIGAR’s queries about money, troop strength, readiness and equipment. But RSM also didn’t want to reveal how the mission spent $25 million dollars to support women in the Afghan military. It’s classified.
So is information about the cost and status of current construction projects, a literacy program and the salaries for the security forces.
Even questions as basic as RSM’s broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty” are no long meant for the public.
RSM classified more than 140 of the watchdog’s questions. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the Pentagon won’t answer those questions, just that the general public won’t be able to see the answers.
That includes members of Congress. That’s right, the people SIGAR reports to won’t be able to read any of this information unless they have NATO-level security clearances.
Losing access to this information is bad news. Americans spent an incredible amount of cash fighting the war on terrorism. A recent congressional report puts the cost at $1.6 trillion. Washington spent $100 billion of that on Afghan reconstruction.
The Pentagon spent a lot of that money poorly, and SIGAR was the agency that exposed some of that bad spending to the public. RSM’s decision to classify so much means the public will now know very little.
Washington spent half a million dollars to construct a firing range for Afghan police in 2012. The contractor used bricks mostly made of sand. The building melted into the landscape.
The Pentagon spent $1.4 billion dollars on fuel for the Afghan police. A lot of it is missing. SIGAR investigators caught several contractors overcharging for gas and one U.S. soldier who conspired to steal fuel.
The U.S. donated more than 700,000 weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces at a cost exceeding $600 million. Much of it sits in shipping containers untouched.
We’re about to lose these stories of corruption and incompetence. Stories that help the public understand how America has failed in Afghanistan. That’s just as important—if not more important—than any of the ways it succeeded.