Declassified: U.S. Backs Down From Secrecy on Afghanistan Spending

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Afghan security forces attend a ceremony in Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. The 13-year international mission led by the United States and NATO ended on Dec. 31 with Afghan forces now in charge of national security in the midst of an intensified Taliban insurgency. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

February 3, 2015

The American command in Afghanistan has backed down from a decision to classify details of how much the U.S. is spending to help train Afghan security forces.

The United States Congress has appropriated nearly $65 billion towards the training since 2002. But a quarterly report released last week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the command had made an “unprecedented” decision to classify much of the information about the effort — including how much the U.S. spent on food for the Afghan army, and literacy training.

The decision this week to declassify the information will mean more transparency and prevent wrongdoing, Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, told FRONTLINE.

“This is a major national enterprise, and effective public oversight is needed to keep it on an even footing to combat corruption, which is rife in Afghanistan, and to minimize the problems of mismanagement,” he said. “If you look at the series of SIGAR reports, they are consistently full of harsh findings concerning corruption, mismanagement, ineffectiveness — and this kind of reporting is essential if there is to be any hope of improving matters.”

SIGAR spokesman Alex Bronstein-Moffly said the organization was still trying to determine how much material will be declassified.

In a Jan. 18 letter to SIGAR, Gen. John Campbell, the commander of coalition forces, said his decision to classify the data was driven by security concerns. But that move was challenged by critics, including several news outlets and Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

In a partial reversal, the U.S. forces said they would make basic data public, but would continue to classify data that could aid Afghan insurgents, such as details on the readiness of Afghan army and police units.

Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the U.S. forces, said some data had initially been kept secret because it was “combined with related classified information,” but was suitable for public release when viewed alone. That data has been separated from the classified data, “based on the SIGAR’s request to release more information to the public,” and turned over to SIGAR, he said.

“We recognize that SIGAR provides a vital function ensuring transparency and oversight of the expenditure of U.S taxpayer dollars,” Tribus said in an e-mail to FRONTLINE. “We have and will continue to implement many of the SIGAR’s recommendations that have helped make us more effective stewards of American funding.”

Afghanistan has had more Taliban attacks over the last year as coalition forces prepared to withdraw. The number of Afghan security personnel killed in action increased 6.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, while the U.N. mission in Afghanistan counted 3,188 civilian deaths from January to November 2014, a 19 percent increase from the same period in 2013.

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