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Watchdog: U.S. Has Classified ‘Almost Every Metric’ Gauging Success in Afghanistan

CAMP BOST, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 11: U.S. service members walk off a helicopter on the runway at Camp Bost on September 11, 2017 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. About 300 marines are currently deployed in Helmand Province in a train, advise, and assist role supporting local Afghan security forces. Currently the …
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
EDWIN MORA

The United States government has decided to either classify or do away with “almost every” metric for success or failure in Afghanistan, John Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), revealed this week.

Moreover, Sopko deemed U.S. President Donald Trump’s much-touted airstrike operations against Afghan Taliban heroin and opium labs a failure and waste of resources, echoing independent assessments.

In February, the inspector general office for the Pentagon revealed that the Trump administration had quietly ended the anti-drug airstrike campaign dubbed “Iron Tempest” amid peace negotiations with the Taliban, echoing a recent independent assessment of the effort.

The classification of SIGAR’s public data on America’s $132 billion nation-building effort began under the previous administration, but the watchdog agency’s chief John Sopko indicated this week that it has intensified under Trump.

In what was then described as an unprecedented move, former President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015 classified information concerning Afghan security forces’ strength, salaries, training, equipment, infrastructure, anti-corruption measures, and other matters.

The vast majority (now more than $83 billion) of American taxpayer funds devoted to U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are aimed at developing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which includes military and police units.

On Wednesday, Sopko told reporters during a round table discussion, “Almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent. Over time, it’s been classified or it’s no longer being collected,” the Hill reported.

“The classification in some areas is needless, but we don’t have classifying authority. Embarrassing things tend to get classified in this town. The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer,” he added, according to Military Times.

“I don’t think it makes sense,” Sopko also said, Defense One revealed. “The Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it. The only people who don’t know what’s going on is the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.”

Breitbart News often relies on SIGAR’s audits to keep the American public informed about the Afghanistan war, America’s longest military engagement.

The assessments have painted a bleak picture of America’s efforts under the previous administration and have continued to do so under Trump.

Referring to SIGAR’s remarks, military-centric news outlet Task & Purpose noted:

To be clear, Sopko isn’t just saying that the Pentagon has opted to keep more information on its progress in Afghanistan classified — he’s saying that the Pentagon has outright ceased gathering critical data on whether the United States is actually succeeding or failing after sinking 17 years, 2,400 fallen service members, and $900 billion dollars into a seemingly endless conflict.

During a televised cabinet meeting in January, President Trump reportedly complained that the practice of making Afghanistan progress reports public was likely undermining America’s reconstruction efforts.

Trump asked acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan during his first day on the job, “What kind of stuff is this?”

“The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it. … I don’t want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary. You understand that,” he added.

On Wednesday, Sopko acknowledged of the classification move, “I know this became a big deal at a press conference at the White House about why is this information being discussed publicly. Well, by law we have to.”

That same day, the chief of the watchdog agency slammed the anti-opium airstrikes campaign, echoing a new report from the London School of Economics.

“They’re no longer doing it, which may indicate how effective it was,” Sopko declared, referring to the airstrike campaign.

SIGAR has been critical of the effort as too expensive and ineffective since it started in 2017, noting that it only takes the Taliban a few days to replace the bombed heroin labs.

“Experts there told us that this was not going to succeed, because the labs that were destroyed were extremely small and mobile … They cost about $500 to build and operate,” he told reporters, adding:

Anyone who worked in counter-narcotics, any DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent, would have told you that’s what they’re going to do. And the second thing is, how much money was actually eliminated from the Taliban and from the drug warlords by this thing was totally exaggerated because you’re bombing and you don’t know what’s in the bag, what’s in the barrels.

As of the end of January, the U.S. military reported to SIGAR that the operation had denied a total of $200 million to Afghan drug traffickers, including a $42 million to the Taliban specifically.

BBC reported that the London School of Economics also concluded that the operation dubbed Iron Tempest had failed.

“The study found that, despite excellent intelligence, the multi-million-dollar campaign was having a negligible effect on either the Taliban or the drug trafficking networks in Afghanistan,” it notes.

Despite nearly $9 billion in American taxpayer funds devoted to counternarcotics in Afghanistan since the war began in October 2001, the South Asian country remains the world’s top supplier of opium and heroin.

Noting that the majority of heroin in the U.S. originates in Latin America, the DEA told Breitbart News a small amount of Afghan heroin is fueling the unprecedented number of drug overdoses that have killed more Americans than terrorism in recent years.

“But, as with any commodity, if there’s more of it on the market, the cost will fall, and US drug enforcement was growing afraid that burgeoning production in Afghanistan would increase world supply and push prices down, making it even more accessible to Americans,” BBC notes.

Afghan opium generates revenue for corrupt government officials and jihadis alike.

“The profits from the heroin it produces are used to fund the Taliban, as well as terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda,” BBC reports.” And heroin also drives the rampant corruption that is so corrosive to civil society in Afghanistan.”

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