Watchdog Criticizes Afghanistan Progress, Claims DOD Blocking Release of Public Data

US aircraft dropped 653 munitions in Afghanistan in October 2017 and have significantly increased the number of airstrikes in the country, but a recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction claims it's not making much of an impact. Air Force photo by SSgt. Divine Cox.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction blasted the Defense Department for blocking the release of public data detailing how much land is controlled by the Taliban, noting the large uptick in airstrikes have had a limited impact in the country.

In its quarterly report to Congress, SIGAR said, “this is the first time” the watchdog organization “has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ to the American taxpayer.”

The roundup of districts controlled by the Taliban is “one of the last remaining publicly available indicators for members of Congress … and for the American public of how the 16-year-long US effort to secure Afghanistan is faring,” SIGAR said.

The Pentagon, however, said Tuesday the decision to leave out the breakdown of districts was a mistake. Resolute Support did not intend to withhold the information to SIGAR, it was the result of a “human error in labeling.”

The report comes as the department has increased its footprint in the country, and dramatically increased the number of airstrikes conducted in support of anti-terrorism operations and Afghan National Self Defense Forces operations. In October, US aircraft dropped 653 munitions—a record high since 2012 and more than a threefold increase from the same time in 2016.

“These actions have yet to increase the Afghan government’s control over its population,” SIGAR said, noting that Resolute Support also reported 4,474 civilian casualties from June 2017 to November 2017, an increase of 13 percent from the same period in 2016.

US airstrikes are part of a new offensive, called Jagged Knife, which targets Taliban drug production facilities. The Air Force recently deployed A-10s back to Kandahar Airfield in part to support the effort.

“The Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power,” USAF Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan, said in a release.

In November and December, US aircraft destroyed 25 drug labs, some from airstrikes conducted by F-22s and B-52s, eliminating $80 million of drug money. SIGAR, however, is questioning the accuracy of those numbers.

“The labs being destroyed are cheap and easy to replace, according to some estimates they only take three or four days to replace,” SIGAR said.

Despite $8.7 billion spent on counter-narcotics efforts, opium production has reached an all-time high, the agency found.

Read the full report; Caution, large-sized file.