Secrecy shrouds US development of Afghan security forces

For the first time in eight years, the Department of Defense (DoD) has classified assigned strength data used to measure the development of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF). US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), the command authority responsible for training the ANDSF, classified its data on Afghan casualties and attrition rates, as well as details on the operational readiness of US-supplied weapons, vehicles and supplies. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, these numbers are generally the most prominent indicators of the issues still plaguing the ANDSF. High casualty and attrition rates, low morale, and poor administrative support systems have been an unfortunate staple of ANDSF development.

Assigned strength data is provided quarterly to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an oversight body created by Congress to publicly report on Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts. However, in SIGAR’s most recent quarterly report issued Oct. 30, it notes that “According to USFOR-A, a recent legal review determined that…USFOR-A must withhold, restrict, or classify the data as long as the Afghan government has classified it.”

SIGAR did not explicitly note in its report why the Afghan government, and subsequently DoD, chose now to classify ANDSF assigned strength figures.

While DoD’s pivot to privacy is unexpected, it is not out of line with President Trump’s newly announced Afghanistan strategy this past August. The motives to classify this type of data could originate from the same concerns that led Trump to reject the establishment of artificial timetables in Afghanistan. Both moves act to remove actionable intelligence that the Taliban could use for recruitment and propaganda purposes.

On the other hand, more likely the action will be seen as an attempt to cover up failures in the US effort to develop a capable ANDSF. Billions in US funding continues to pour into programs looking to bolster Afghan forces. Paid for by the American taxpayer, sluggish progress of such programs threatens to make the aging and beleaguered effort unpopular at home. Special inspector general for Afghanistan, John Sopko, said as much in a clear-eyed warning to The New York Times, “The Afghans know what’s going on; the Taliban knows what’s going on; the U.S. military knows what’s going on. The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people paying for it.”

Furthermore, the US role in Afghanistan has increased in the last year despite the expressed long-term goal of winding down American personnel and handing off security to Afghan counterparts. SIGAR highlighted a “sharp increase in American air strikes in the last several months [indicating] US forces are taking a more active combat role.” SIGAR also estimates that once August deployment orders are fulfilled, those US forces will total approximately 14,000-15,000 military personnel in-country, not including civilians and contractors.

The increased US role is likely in response to the alarmingly high rate of casualties suffered by Afghan forces in the face of relentless Taliban offensives that have continued to capture and contest increasing amounts of territory across the country. These fatality rates, of course, are the same numbers that will no longer be made available to the public.

SIGAR’s quarterly report can be viewed in its entirety here.

 

Phil Hegseth is a social and digital media specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal.

10 Comments

  • anan says:

    This is driven by Afghan MoD, Afghan MoI, NDS desires to prevent “spies” from finding information about their forces. This is also why MoD and MoI aren’t always very responsive to phone calls, e-mails and requests for information.

    What have you found in your requests for information from MoD and MoI?

  • Steve Silverman says:

    Does anyone have a helpful answer and or thought to this question:
    After over a decade, and Billions of dollars, Afghanistan’s Government and Security Forces appear at least in the media to be fragile. Transparency obviously had very little effect. Why should we care about information classification?

  • Truthful James says:

    Given the failure ratio of the Afghan Security forces as documented in the public press, I can understand why the data is classified at least CYA

  • Rosario says:

    Not to worry about all this secrecy Phil, if history is any judge it will be very hard to “spin” facts when grieving families start getting their loved ones returned in boxes and bags.

  • anan says:

    Why do you think the ANA has low morale?

  • Ted Hitchcock says:

    Would we believe the numbers coming out of the Ministry of Defense if they reported them? In response to USFOR-Afganistan’s report of 54 districts under Taliban “control or influence” a/o Aug. ’17 (per SIGAR 10/31/17 Report to Congress), Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, said:

    “We accept war in Afghanistan, but we cannot accept that more area has fallen to the enemy,” said Waziri, who added the centers of only nine districts of the country were under militants’ influence… . “Current year was a difficult year for Afghanistan and we accept it… but Afghan forces were 100 percent successful because they foiled the enemy’s plans,” he said. (Pajhwok News, 11/1/17).

    They will admit nothing till we fly them off the embassy roof.

  • anan says:

    Rosario, it appears that the ANSF have suffered about 9 thousand KIA a year for the last 4 years. This appears to be sustainable for the Afghan public; and the more capable ANSF OOB now planned. The current strategy is designed to change the momentum of the war over 5 to 10 years.

    So far ANSF casualties have not prevented ANSF recruitment.

    Are the current high level of Taliban casualties sustainable for the Taliban over the long run?

  • John Dapper says:

    Secrecy probably helps in the long run. Failure of the Afghan Security forces is partly the culture. Afghan on both sides come from hundreds of years of guerrilla warfare. They attack with great bravery when they outnumber their foes, but fade away in the face of real opposition.

  • Martin says:

    The conflict needs more professional western troops with less restrictive rules of engagement. Any Afghan force should follow the British model from India and only be recruited from reliable and trustworthy groups or tribes who have motivation and reason to fight. A politically correct army can’t win the war there.

  • Martin says:

    After digging on the net I see the best Afghan forces are their special commando battalions; and there are plans increase their number dramatically. If victory with Afghan forces is possible, it would seem to lie in this program.

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