'Human error': US military says it made 'mistake' by banning release of Afghanistan war data
The US military has said it was a mistake to order a Congress-created watchdog not to release data on progress regarding the war in Afghanistan, citing "human error" as the cause.
"It was NOT the intent of Resolute Support to withhold or classify information which was available in prior reports,'' Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for the US-led NATO coalition, said in an email, as quoted by AP.
Earlier on Tuesday, it was reported that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was told not to release information on the mass of territory controlled or influenced by the Taliban and Afghan government.
SIGAR, which typically releases quarterly reports detailing such information, revealed the gag order in a three-month assessment released overnight.
In addition, the US military also classified the actual and authorized total troop numbers and attrition rates for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) for the first time since 2009.
The gag order was criticized by SIGAR head John Sopko. "In essence, you can ask me almost any question and I will have to say, it is classified or non-releasable, I mean you go down the list, it is just amazing," he told Reuters. Sopko said the Pentagon provided no reasons for its decision, and the move could lead some people to conclude that the information was being withheld because there's been limited progress in Afghanistan – which may not actually be the case.
The Pentagon had initially pointed to the NATO-led Resolute Support coalition, saying that the Department of Defense lacks authority to overrule that body's decision.
As Gresback confirmed "human error," the coalition provided some data that had been restricted. That information showed that 44 percent of Afghanistan is contested or under the control of insurgents. However, other details including the size, attrition, and performance of Afghan forces continues to be limited, despite being made available in previous quarters.
It's not the first time that information has been locked down regarding America's longest war. Last year, US forces in Afghanistan restricted the levels of data provided on the ANDSF, including figures on casualties, personnel strength and attrition rates. At the time, the US military said the statistics were being managed by the Afghan government which did not want it to be released.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump rejected the notion of peace talks with the Taliban following a string of fatal attacks in Afghanistan. The move appeared to be a contradiction of his own strategy to end the war. Last year, Trump ordered an increase in US troops to Afghanistan, as well as airstrikes and assistance to Afghan forces.
Earlier this month, the US ambassador to the United Nations said Washington's new strategy was working and pushing Taliban militants closer to peace talks. Nikki Haley's comments came before a Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden ambulance in Kabul Saturday, killing more than 100 people and injuring at least 235. That attack followed a Taliban assault on the city’s Intercontinental Hotel, which left 20 people dead.
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