Watchdog: State, Defense withholds key information about Afghanistan

The U.S. government’s Afghan watchdog on Friday accused the State Department and the Pentagon of withholding what he said was crucial information about U.S. operations during the 20-year war.

Why it’s important: The details “would almost certainly have benefited Congress and the public by assessing whether progress was being made,” the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan’s Reconstruction, John Sopko, said at an annual conference for military journalists and editors in Arlington, Virginia.

What he says: Sopko, whose office was set up by Congress to ensure independent oversight, did not hold back, and lawmakers are likely to listen.

  • He accused the Ministry of Defense of restricting public access to information on Afghan security forces and their operational readiness all the way back to 2015.
    • “Basically almost all the information you needed to know to determine if the Afghan security forces were a real combat force or a house of cards waiting to fall,” Sopko said.
    • “In light of recent events, it is not surprising that the Afghan government, and probably some in the DOD, wanted to keep this information under lock and key.”
  • He also said the Foreign Ministry had asked him and other regulators to temporarily suspend access to “all” audit, inspection and financial audit reports “on their websites, claiming the information could endanger Afghan allies.
    • “The protection of Afghans at legitimate risk of harm is not a problem to quarrel over,” Sopko noted.
    • “But despite repeated requests, the state was never able to describe any specific threats to individuals … nor has the state ever explained how the removal of our reports could now protect anyone, since many were years old and already in wide widely distributed throughout the world. “
  • “The full picture of what happened in August – and all the warning signs that could have predicted that result – will only be revealed if the information that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense has already restricted from public disclosure,” Sopko added .

What to see: Lawmakers are likely to jump on Sopko’s comments as they investigate years of mistakes that could have contributed to the final chaotic withdrawal.

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