SIGAR Publishes Newly Declassified DataTweet
March 4, 2015
This week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a supplement to its January 2015 quarterly report to Congress. The supplement comes after the Pentagon’s change of heart about keeping secret a large quantity of data about the Afghan military and police.
As SIGAR reported in January, the U.S. has spent $65 billion to develop and train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). For many years, SIGAR regularly informed the public about how that money was being used by documenting ANSF troop strength, salaries, training, equipment, and infrastructure. But shortly before SIGAR released the quarterly report, the U.S. military command retroactively classified much of that data. The Project On Government Oversight pointed out the absurdity of the decision; some speculated that the military was trying to hide bad news about the condition of Afghanistan’s security forces.
Less than a week later, however, the military reversed itself and declassified most of the material. Appendix A of the supplement explains the current classification status of ANSF data. According to SIGAR, “some information concerning corps-level ANSF personnel strength data, future requirements for Afghan Air Force (AAF) equipment, the number of trained AAF pilots, and operational data on the Afghan Special Mission Wing remains classified.”
But a new problem has emerged. Just hours before the supplement was originally scheduled to be released, SIGAR was notified that the ANSF strength numbers the military provided between April and October 2014 were incorrect due to an accounting error. The error was discovered in September 2014, but the military failed to notify SIGAR or provide updated numbers until last week. Until then, the military kept SIGAR in the dark even as it reviewed and approved SIGAR reports containing the incorrect data.
“The U.S. military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking,” SIGAR noted. “Given that accurate reporting on ANSF strength is an important factor in judging Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and in determining the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from the country, and that the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the Afghan troops based on these numbers, these inconsistencies are deeply troubling.”
As the cynics had surmised, the newly declassified data paints a troubling picture of the viability of Afghanistan’s military. The supplement reports that Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel has declined by 15,636 (or 8.5%) since February 2014 to 169,203, the lowest assigned ANA force strength in almost four years. Attrition continues to be a major problem for the ANSF. Between September 2013 and September 2014, more than 40,000 personnel were dropped from ANA rolls. The ANA also continues to suffer serious combat losses, with more than 1,300 ANA personnel killed and 6,200 wounded in action between October 2013 and September 2014.
The obstacles SIGAR faced in producing its latest quarterly report weren’t limited to the Pentagon. POGO noted in January that the State Department failed to answer SIGAR’s questions about economic and social development programs. SIGAR sent State a list of 24 questions on November 20, 2014, but had received responses to only three by the December 29 deadline. Appendix B of the supplement includes an additional ten responses. SIGAR is optimistic that State will answer the remaining questions by the time SIGAR issues the next quarterly report at the end of April.
Congress has appropriated $107.5 billion for Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2001, more than $15 billion of which has yet to be spent. We are glad that SIGAR (mostly) won the classification battle with the military, but the watchdog still faces major challenges. We worry that steadily shrinking zones of access and continued friction with State, the Pentagon, and USAID are hampering SIGAR’s effectiveness.
Image from Flickr user DVIDSHUB.
Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.
Topics: Contract Oversight
Authors: Neil Gordon
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