In late December, as they do every few months, American military officials in Kabul sent a trove of data to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction for its quarterly report. Over the years, such figures have told an often dispiriting story about Washington’s enormous investment in the country’s security forces, laying out their size, readiness, attrition level and the state of their infrastructure.
“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 can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Gen. John Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, wrote to the inspector general, John Sopko, on Jan. 18.
The threats that Afghan and American troops face in Afghanistan remain all too real. But it strains credulity to believe that insurgents would become more proficient fighters by poring over lengthy inspector general reports about an increasingly forgotten war. Classifying that information unreasonably prevents American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions about the returns on a $107.5 billion reconstruction investment that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the The Marshall Plan.
Mr. Sopko, a former prosecutor who takes great pleasure in needling bureaucrats, has at times gone overboard in his protests over the state of reconstruction projects. On this issue, however, he’s rightfully outraged.
“The decision leaves SIGAR 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” Afghan forces, the agency wrote, using its acronym, in its latest quarterly report, which was issued Thursday. Mr. Sopko last year had protested the decision to restrict dissemination of a more limited set of data that would have otherwise been included in the October report. He said there was no evidence that aggregate nationwide data on Afghan military capabilities could give militants an edge.