The special inspector general for Afghanistan pointed fingers at the Pentagon and State Department on Friday, accusing both of hiding pertinent information from lawmakers and the public regarding the collapse of the country’s government and military amid the deadly, chaotic evacuation at the close of August.
John Sopko, the special IG for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), made his accusations after discovering that several routine documents once publicly available were now marked as classified.
“The full picture of what happened in August – and all the warning signs that could have predicted the outcome – will only be revealed if the information that the departments of Defense and State have already restricted from public release is made available,” the watchdog noted, DailyMail.com reported.
Sopko spoke as he published his latest report detailing spending in the country in compliance with a request from Congress as lawmakers asked for further details. He noted that transparency was needed now that the government of former President Ashraf Ghani was in tatters and the Taliban were effectively in charge of the country again after a 20-year hiatus following the U.S. military invasion in October 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“There is a lot of information that was classified or withheld from the American people over the years, particularly since 2015, to protect the Afghan government from embarrassment,” he said in an interview with NPR.
“And there is no Ghani government. There is no Afghan government anymore. So we think that information should be immediately released to SIGAR and to the American people and Congress in an unclassified format,” he added.
Sopko went on to detail the kind of information he would like to seek made public.
“It was, how good was the Afghan government fighting corruption? How good was the Afghan military able to stand on their own? Casualty rates for the Afghan military, efficiency rates, their ability to actually function as an independent military,” he told the outlet.
“That was information that the Ghani government requested the U.S. government not share with the American people. There’s no reason to protect it anymore,” he added.
According to a State Dept. spokesperson, the diplomatic agency asked that “some reports be temporarily removed to redact identifying information from public records and protect the identities of Afghans and Afghan partner organizations’ due to security concerns about the evacuation effort.”
“The identifying information are the only details intended to be shielded,” the spokesperson noted further, according to DailyMail.com, adding that the SIGAR has the ability to make the information public.
The Afghan watchdog said after Taliban fighters stormed into Kabul, State Department officials requested that he temporarily block online access to a number of reports that he had previously issued to ensure the identities of Afghans who had been assisting the U.S. would be protected.
But, Sopko said, the department “was never able to describe any specific threats to individuals that were supposedly contained in our reports,” adding that he nevertheless “reluctantly” complied and shielded the documents.
He also said that some State Department requests were “bizarre,” like removing Ghani’s name from some reports.
After a review, he said that his agency’s personnel only found four items that should be redacted so the rest of the content remained accessible to the public.
The special IG also noted that since 2015, the Defense Department has prohibited a wealth of data from being publicly released, ostensibly at the former Afghan government’s bidding. The bulk of that information, Sopko said, including Afghan military troop strength and casualty rates, provided “all you needed to know to determine whether the Afghan security forces were a real fighting force or a house of cards.”
He was then asked if he believes that the $89 billion spent by U.S. taxpayers on training Afghan military and security forces was a waste of resources.
“I think the obvious answer is yes,” he told NPR. “‘I mean, you know, you build a military to fight the enemies. Well, when the military disappears or didn’t even exist – I mean, that is the ironic thing.”
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