Under intense media pressure, the US Department of Defense relented and released data on controlled and contested districts in Afghanistan that it previously instructed the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) to withhold from the US public. However, some information – such as population control and other important metrics on the Afghan security forces that was previously available in quarterly reports – remains redacted as SIGAR has not been given authorization to release it.
Not surprisingly, the district control data released today shows that the Taliban continues to slowly wrestle control of districts from the Afghan government.
The Department of Defense released the information after SIGAR revealed its quarterly report yesterday and objected to the withholding of unclassified information from the American public.
“As of October 2017, approximately 56% of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence, 30% remain contested, and approximately 14% are now under insurgent control or influence,” Navy Captain and US military spokesman Tom Gresback told NPR.
Based on that new information, the Taliban has gained control of four additional districts since the previous SIGAR report that included data as of Aug. 2017. The Taliban now controls or influences 53 districts, according to the US military, which provides the information to SIGAR. The number of contested districts (122) remains constant.
FDD’s Long War Journal has independently tracked Taliban controlled and contested districts since mid-2015. The numbers closely track those provided by SIGAR, as LWJ’s definition of control roughly matches the definition used by the US military and SIGAR for control and influence. Currently, LWJ counts 45 districts under Taliban control, 117 confirmed contested, as well as another 24 districts where the Taliban claims a measure of control but their claim cannot be independently verified (see map above). The Taliban does not often exaggerate claims of control.
DoD still withholds key data
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, noted yesterday that SIGAR was not cleared to release any information that was redacted from the report by Resolute Support and the DoD.
“SIGAR takes the classification and/or designation of information by a classifying authority, such as RS [Resolute Support], very seriously; the implication being that it could have national security ramifications,” Sopko told LWJ. “We have yet to receive any formal notification that we are clear to release this information publicly.”
One day later, and despite the release of district control data to NPR, neither the DoD nor Resolute Support has authorized SIGAR to release the information on district and population control, as well as key metrics on the Afghan security forces, according to Jennifer George-Nichol, a public affairs official at SIGAR.