The US-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan in now withholding the data used publicly as a means to assess the security situation on the ground, a US government watchdog has warned.
The change in the way NATO forces report developments on the ground was revealed in a new quarterly report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko.
The NATO Resolute Support (RS) mission has “restricted from public release data on the number of enemy-initiated attacks (EIA)” this quarter, for the first time since the inspector-general began using it in 2018 to track the level of violence in Afghanistan, the report said.
This EIA data was one of the last remaining metrics SIGAR was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan since RS discontinued its previous system of assessing district control in 2018.
The military officials explained their decision to SIGAR by saying that the data on enemy attacks is now a “critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the US and the Taliban,” according to the report. The US Department of Defense said that relevant data may be released again in the future.
The US signed a peace roadmap with the Taliban at the end of February. The deal lays out a path for a gradual withdrawal of US troops, for inter-Afghan talks and a prisoner swap. However, further negotiations have stalled, with the Taliban last month calling the face-to-face talks with the US-backed government in Kabul “fruitless.”
Sopko noted that the violence on the ground had decreased for the first week after signing the peace deal, but the Taliban stepped up its attacks on Afghan security forces immediately afterwards.
It was not the first time SIGAR had accused the coalition of hiding crucial information on Afghanistan. Last year, Sopko criticized Resolute Support officials for having stopped reporting how much Afghan territory is actually controlled by the Kabul government. The coalition explained at the time that the metric was “of limited decision-making value.” The change occurred just as the Kabul forces were losing ground to the Taliban, with their control dropping from 72 percent of the territory in late 2015 to 53.8 percent in October 2018.
The US-led coalition has been fighting the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan since 2001.
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