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U.S. Says Details of Aid to Afghan Army Now a Secret, from Americans at Least

The U.S. military decided it will no longer release facts and figures about America’s costly effort to assist Afghan security forces.

(As this goes online, the military has announced, having been called out, that it is backtracking on parts of the classification)

Information that has been made public for the past 12 years is now classified. The fact that the information has generally made the military (and the State Department, who helps spend the money) look like fools may have something to do with the decision.

The move marks an about-face for the Pentagon, which for the past years has more or less bragged about the $65 billion program to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the Afghan Police. The data now being withheld as classified from the American public is how taxpayers’ money has been spent and the state of the troubled forces. Presumably the Afghan side already knows.

“The decision leaves the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) unable to publicly report on most of the taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain the ANSF,” said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General.

But What About the Troops?

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, defended the change, saying the information could prove helpful to Taliban insurgents and needed to be kept secret. “With lives literally on the line, I am sure you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Campbell wrote.

The now-classified data also hides the results of the $107.5 billion U.S. reconstruction program that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan. For example, the classified data includes the total amount of U.S. funding for Afghan forces for the current year, details of contracts for literacy training and an assessment of anti-corruption initiatives. It remains unclear how such information could endanger lives or aid the Taliban. Also, Afghan officials do not consider the information secret and have discussed it with media.

The State Department was also not forthcoming about its aid projects when contacted by the inspector general’s office. Despite a legal obligation for federal government agencies to provide requested information to the inspector general, “the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.”

What Information? You Mean, Like This?

The possibility that the information on ANSF and police readiness might be being withheld simply because it is bad news remains.

Afghan war blog Sunny in Kabul (which, if you have any interest at all in events in Afghanistan you should be reading) says the military isn’t hiding money, it’s hiding people. Specifically, the lack of Afghan soldiers on the job.

Sunny in Kabul concludes “Based on the numbers publicly reported last fall, there won’t be an army left to fight the insurgency by the end of 2015. That’s not a metaphor or commentary on their professionalism. I mean there won’t be an army at all.”

More:

“The ANSF lost 27 percent of its fighting force to attrition from October 2011 to September 2012. For the same period the previous year, the ANSF lost 30 percent of its personnel due to attrition, which means that 57 percent of the ANA has been lost to attrition over the last two years. It gets worse: if the time period from March 2010 until September 2012 is considered, that number climbs to 72 percent. So nearly three quarters of the ANSF’s total force over the course of 31 months was lost.”

Basically, despite extraordinary sums of money being spent to train and equip the ANSF, they are quitting, deserting, getting killed or running away.

About That Other Stuff Being Hidden

Despite the very clear case that all this newly-classified information is designed to hide people, not money, a compelling argument can be made that the point is to hide people AND money.

For just a few examples, pick from this list:

— A failed $7.3 million police headquarters;

$700 million spent on sending Afghan jewelers on lavish “gem training” junkets to India, Paris, and Milan;

$300 million annually for police salaries with no audits to assure the funds are going to active police personnel;

— A five-year-old State Department effort to upgrade Afghanistan’s largest prison has been halted with only half the contracted work performed. Some $18 million was wasted on a project that will never be finished and will never serve any need.

— For unclear reasons, the U.S. Air Force destroyed $468 million of aircraft purchased for the Afghan military by America’s taxpayers, and sold off the scrapped metal for all of $32,000.

— The U.S. spent $34 million on a “Regional Command and Control Facility” that will never be used. The Marines this week forever abandoned/withdrew from the base that houses that facility.

— The U.S. spent another $771.8 million on aircraft the Afghans cannot operate or maintain.

— Some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics and even fire stations built by the Army are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.

— A USAID program designed to promote stability in Afghanistan spent its entire $47 million budget on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim.

And much, much more!

Not that anyone likely cares anymore, but all this classification seems to have as its primary goal preventing American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions as to how their money has been spent. Whatever.

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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

Creative Commons Licensed Photo on Flickr by ResoluteSupportMedia

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Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State’s Congressional Liaison Office.

Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (the book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler.

Though this is his first book, Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael Moore.com, Le Monde, Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.

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