The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. military cited for increasing classification of information on Afghan forces

An Afghan National Army soldier aims his rifle during a training session in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Jan. 27. EPA/JAWAD JALALI EPA/JAWAD JALALI

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan is increasingly classifying information about the Afghan military and police that had previously been released, an “unprecedented” decision that keeps it from the American public, according to a new watchdog report.

The Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the report Thursday in which it singled out Army Gen. John Campbell in Afghanistan. The decision leaves the watchdog office, led by John Sopko, unable to publicly report “on most of the U.S. taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain” the Afghan National Security Forces, SIGAR said.

In a Jan. 18 memo included in SIGAR’s report, Campbell wrote that he could not speak to why the information was available in the past, but decided to classify “sensitive operational information” that his staff deemed could be used against U.S. or Afghan troops.

“With lives literally on the line, I am sure that 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 could be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Campbell wrote.

But the information that has been classified doesn’t all appear to threaten security, if released. Among the questions Campbell refused to have his command answer publicly is how $25 million authorized by Congress has been used to assist women in the Afghan army, what the definitions of “present for duty” and “unavailable” are, and what is the total amount of funding the United States has spent on salaries in the Afghan National Police.

Steven Aftergood, who directs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, wrote Thursday on his blog that Campbell’s classification of information is “startlingly indiscriminate.” The issue “highlights the inadequacy of existing mechanisms for correcting excessive, abusive or mistaken classification decisions,” he added.

Violence in Afghanistan remains high. There were about 60.1 daily “security incidents” — a term that includes firefights, improvised explosive device strikes and other attacks — between November 2013 and last November, SIGAR said. The Taliban and other insurgent groups still pose either a substantial or high threat in nearly all of the southern and eastern parts of the country, as this SIGAR map shows: