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Watchdog Cast Doubts on U.S. Military’s Claim ‘Human Error’ Led to Hiding Taliban’s Strength

Pakistani Taliban AP
EDWIN MORA

The rate of districts controlled or contested by jihadists in Afghanistan went from 43.3 to 44 percent during a two-month period that ended in October, revealed the U.S. military.

In comments to the Washington Examiner, the U.S.-NATO mission denied that it intentionally prevented an American watchdog agency from reporting the information to the public.

In its latest quarterly report to Congress, the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, said the Pentagon instructed his agency to withhold the full district and land-area under the control of the Afghan government and terrorist groups.

However, on Tuesday, the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, officially known Resolute Support (RS), denied it had ordered SIGAR to hide the information and “blamed a classification error for the mix-up,” reports the Washington Examiner.

“It was not the intent of Resolute Support to withhold or classify information which was available in prior reports. A human error in labeling occurred,” Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for RS, told the Examiner.

“The classification system, because it incorporates both a NATO and U.S. nomenclature, can be challenging, and a mistake was made,” continued the U.S. captain. “The data is not classified, and there was no intent to withhold it unnecessarily.”

A spokesman for the inspector general told Breitbart News in an email statement that SIGAR had not yet been cleared to release the control data.

In the email statement, Sopko cast doubt on the U.S. military’s claim that keeping the data from the public was a mistake, saying:

SIGAR takes the classification and/or designation of information by a classifying authority, such as RS, very seriously; the implication being that it could have national security ramifications. We have yet to receive any formal notification that we are clear to release this information publicly.

If true, that’s great. I’m glad they finally came to their senses. It’s unfortunate that they only did so after the press started to ask questions. We hope now they will release all the other important information they have unreasonably withheld from the American people.

The Examiner learned from the U.S.-led NATO mission that the U.S.-backed Kabul government controlled or influenced 56 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, an estimated 14 percent was under the control or influence of terrorists, primarily the Taliban, and RS deemed the remaining 30 percent contested as of October 2017.

That means jihadists, such as the Taliban, controlled or contested 44 percent of Afghanistan near the end of last year, a little more than the 43.3 percent they influenced or challenged as of August 2017.

Some independent analysts, namely experts from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), have questioned the accuracy of the U.S military’s assessment, placing the territory under terrorist control or influence at about 45 percent in late September.

Since the inspector general began reporting on control data in January 2016, the Afghan government’s control or influence has declined while terrorists’ influence has increased.

The last quarter [October 1 to December 31, 2017] covered by the most recent SIGAR report to Congress was no exception.

Terrorists gained control of more territory between August 24 and the end of October 2017.

Despite the Examiner article quoting the U.S.-NATO mission as saying “human error” led to the classification of the Taliban’s strength, the SIGAR report still noted as of the end of Wednesday:

This quarter, the Department of Defense (DOD) instructed SIGAR not to release to the public data on the number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or in uenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both. SIGAR has been reporting district-control data since January 2016, and later added estimates of population and land-area control reported by DOD … SIGAR was informed this quarter that DOD has determined that although the most recent numbers are unclassified, they are not releasable to the public.

This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the rst time SIGAR has been speci cally instructed not to release information marked “unclassified” to the American taxpayer.

In its report, the inspector general also said the record number of airstrikes launched under U.S. President Donald Trump failed to expand the Afghan government’s control over its population and stop the Taliban from quickly replacing its opium and heroin processing labs pulverized by the U.S. military.

Opium and heroin are the top sources of income for the Taliban. SIGAR also claimed the Pentagon banned the inspector general from reporting about the strength and capabilities of the struggling Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which, along with Afghan civilians, have borne the brunt of casualties primarily at the hands of the Taliban in recent years.

In August, President Trump unveiled his Afghan war strategy — focused on pressuring the Taliban to engage in peace negotiations with Kabul by making the terrorist group realize it cannot win on the battlefield.

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