The U.S. military has, for the first time, classified key data about reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, in a move that has frustrated one government watchdog and left the public in the dark on billions in spending.
The agency tasked with overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan released their quarterly report to Congress on Thursday, featuring a series of glaring asterisks.
The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, better known as SIGAR, said in its report summary they were unable to present a complete evaluation of reconstruction spending within the report because key data was withheld by the military and the State Department, at least in an unclassified format.
The most glaring omission is the absence of information from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), classified by the Defense Department for the first time this quarter. Additional data on the ANSF was classified last quarter by the International Security Assistance Force.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Belcher said the decision was made “to address potential concerns about operational security.”
“We appreciate, understand and support SIGAR’s responsibility to provide information to Congress and the American public,” Belcher said in a statement. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect data that could jeopardize the operational security of our Afghan partners to include unnecessarily highlighting possible vulnerabilities and capability gaps.”
Belcher said the Afghan government requested the U.S. not disclose readiness data from the Afghan National Security Forces.
According to the SIGAR report, Congress has appropriated more than $65 billion to the Afghan forces to date, more than half of the approximately $104 billion appropriated for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan generally.
SIGAR expressed concern about these decisions in its report and said that earlier this month the military retroactively classified other information it had submitted to the agency only days earlier. Because of the newly classified nature of the data, portions of the quarterly report are now only available to members of congress in a classified annex, and are not available to the public.
This quarter’s SIGAR report was also compiled without input from the State Department on some of their funding efforts.
That report noted that while federal agencies are legally required to submit requested data to SIGAR, “the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.”
Asked to comment, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said her department did not purposefully keep data from the agency.
“This quarter it took longer than expected to collect and distill the requested information and our response on social and economic issues missed the reporting deadline,” Psaki said at a press briefing on Thursday.
“We did however, convey the delay to SIGAR and we did not intentionally withhold information for these quarterly reports. We expect it will be complete in the next quarter with all of the details across the board,” she said.