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U.S. Military Officials, Come Up With A New Strategy Over Unfavorable Data

"Obviously, we haven't kicked the terrorists out if they're still blowing things up and we're negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed."

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Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the Jalalabad-Kabul road, on the outskirts of Kabul, April 28, 2019. VOA

A decision by U.S. military officials in Afghanistan to stop tracking the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban is sparking an increasingly tense showdown with the watchdog overseeing reconstruction efforts.

The so-called district-level stability assessments, which measure the number of the country’s districts under government or insurgent control or influence, have been one of the most widely cited indicators of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

But the assessments are missing from the quarterly report issued Wednesday by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the first time the report has failed to include the data since 2015.

In a letter to SIGAR in March, the U.S.-commanded Resolute Support mission said the information had been dropped because it was “of limited decision-making value.”

Ending data collection

A spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Col. David Butler, further defended the decision to stop collecting the data Wednesday.

“The district stability assessment that was previously provided by (the Department of Defense) was redundant and did little to serve our mission of protecting our citizens and allies,” he said, adding, “the intelligence community produces a district stability assessment which is available to SIGAR.”

Only SIGAR, which has expressed growing alarm about the amount of information that is no longer being collected or which has been unnecessarily classified, said this is the first time military officials have raised such concerns.

“SIGAR has always gotten the district assessments from the RS (Resolute Support) command, not from the intelligence community,” SIGAR spokesman Philip LaVelle told VOA, via email.

“When RS provided their formal response to our data call on this issue, they made no mention of it being discontinued because it’s ‘redundant’ and no indication of it being made available to us from the intelligence community,” he added.

Intelligence officials contacted by VOA are looking into whether the information is being collected and might be available to SIGAR.

But the assertion such data is collected would appear to contradict the letter Resolute Support sent SIGAR in March.

“District stability data has not been collected since the October 22, 2018 data submitted last quarter,” Resolute Support wrote. “There are no products at command or other forums that communicate district stability or control information.”

FILE - Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019.
Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

Loss of data

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, SIGAR decried the loss of the data.

“Despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassified metric provided by (Resolute Support) that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground,” it said.

SIGAR also noted that previous commanders of the Resolute Support mission “had previously cited its importance in public statements.”

The U.S.-led mission’s decision to eliminate the stability assessments comes after successive reports showed the Afghan government’s control of the country falling to record lows.

In its November 2018 report, SIGAR said the Afghan government controlled or influenced only 56 percent of the country’s districts, at the time the lowest level recorded since the watchdog began tracking district control in November 2015.

In SIGAR’s subsequent report, issued this past January, that number had slipped to less than 54 percent, as the Afghan government lost seven districts to the Taliban.

According to some, the figures suggest U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan, meant to increase pressure on the Taliban and force them to negotiate an end to decades of fighting, is not having the level of success claimed by administration officials.

FILE - An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019.
An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019. VOA

Concerning data

Other data collected for the latest SIGAR report also show reason for concern.

The average number of attacks initiated by the Taliban jumped 19 percent for the three-month period ending in January. The number of casualties suffered by Afghan forces were 31 percent higher than compared to the same period last year.

The report found Afghan civilian casualties were also up, increasing 5 percent from 2017 to almost 11,000, while the number of civilians deaths jumped 11 percent, to more than 3,800.

“Ultimately, I don’t think we’ve met all of our strategic goals there,” U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told reporters last week, ahead of the report’s release.

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“We were going to get the terrorists out and create a government that could keep the terrorists out,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t kicked the terrorists out if they’re still blowing things up and we’re negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed.”

Sopko also raised concerns that increasing amounts of information about U.S. difficulties or failures in Afghanistan is being hidden from the public.

“What we are finding now is almost every indicia, metrics, however you want to phrase it, for success or failure is now classified or non-existent,” he said.

“The Afghan people obviously know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it,” he said. “The only people who don’t know what is going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.” (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Pentagon Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than Portugal, Study Finds

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide

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U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE - The Pentagon building is seen in Washington. VOA

The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions through its defense operations alone than industrialized countries such as Sweden and Portugal, researchers said Wednesday.

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2017, according to the first study to compile such comprehensive data, published by Brown University.

The Pentagon’s emissions were “in any one year … greater than many smaller countries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” the study said.

If it were a country, its emissions would make it the world’s 55th-largest contributor, said Neta Crawford, the study’s author and a political scientist at Boston University.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE – Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district, Jan. 14, 2013. VOA

“There is a lot of room here to reduce emissions,” Crawford said.

Request for comments to the Pentagon went unanswered.

Troop movements

Using and moving troops and weapons accounted for about 70% of its energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel, Crawford said.

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It dwarfed yearly emissions by Sweden, which the international research project Global Carbon Atlas ranks 65th worldwide for its of CO2 emissions.

Pentagon emissions were higher than those of Portugal, ranked 57th by the Global Carbon Atlas, said Crawford.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, followed by the United States.

The Pentagon called climate change “a national security issue” in a January report to Congress and has launched multiple initiatives to prepare for its impact.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Pixabay

Global temperatures are on course for an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4-9.0 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2 C or less, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in November.

Four degrees Celsius of warming would increase more than five times the influence of climate on conflict, according to a study published in Nature magazine on Wednesday.

Improvements

Crawford said the Pentagon had reduced its fuel consumption significantly since 2009, including by making its vehicles more efficient and moving to cleaner sources of energy at bases.

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It could reduce them further by cutting fuel-heavy missions to the Persian Gulf to protect access to oil, which were no longer a top priority as renewable energy gained ground, she said.

“Many missions could actually be rethought, and it would make the world safer,” she said. (VOA)