WASHINGTON -- The new NATO mission in Afghanistan has classified its assessments of how more than $60 billion in U.S. aid is being used to bolster the Afghan army, leaving hidden one of the best assessments of U.S. taxpayer-funded investment in Kabul.
The previous NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, which ended in December, had for the last six years released figures and assessments of Afghan troops' capacity to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Washington’s independent watchdog over U.S. investment in that country. The Special Inspector, which releases quarterly reports, highlighted the new classification issue in a review released Tuesday.
“The classification of this volume of data for [Special Inspector] quarterly report is unprecedented. The decision leaves [Special Inspector] for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the [Afghan National Security Forces],” the report reads.
The assessments on the Afghan troops included number of forces, salaries and equipment inventories and the security force’s checks on fraud and abuses.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the top Democrat on the Senate's subcommittee on investigations and a leader on investigating the spending of U.S. taxpayer dollars abroad, said in a statement Thursday that NATO's classification was "a move deeply detrimental to our efforts to root out waste and fraud" in Afghanistan. McCaskill said she would use her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to question the Obama administration's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, about the classification in his upcoming Senate confirmation hearing.
The Special Inspector foreshadowed the potential classification issue in its October 2014 report, expressing concern over the NATO-led coalition’s resistance to publicly releasing assessments that had been available for years.
Upon its December 2014 request for new data, the Special Inspector General says the vast majority of it was labeled classified by the international coalition.
“Given the risks that continue to exist to our forces and those of Afghanistan, I have directed that sensitive operational information or related materials, that could be used by those who threaten the force, or Afghan forces, be classified at an appropriate level,” U.S. Army Commanding Gen. John Campbell wrote in a letter to the inspector general. Campbell is in command of both U.S. forces and NATO-led forces still in the country.
“I cannot comment upon the precise reason why certain information was considered unclassified in the past,” Campbell said.
The new classification veil over the assessments of Afghan forces comes as the decade-long U.S. investment in the region is about to be put to the test. U.S. and NATO-led assistance forces, which were tasked with training and equipping Afghan forces, are escalating their drawdown from the country, leaving the nation’s security largely in the hands of Kabul’s own troops.
President Barack Obama has committed to a complete troop withdrawal by 2016.
Akbar Shahid Ahmed contributed reporting to this story.