Government overseer condemns state and defense ministries for withholding key information on Afghanistan

Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan John Sopko said: “The full picture of what happened in August – and any warning signs that could predict this outcome – will only be disclosed if the information available to the Ministries of State and Defense Public disclosure is already limited. “

Sopko called on both departments to release all relevant information at the annual conference of the Association of Military Journalists and Editors in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday.

Sopko has been a consistent and sharp critic of the way the Afghan war has been waged, but his Friday comments are likely to be scrutinized as lawmakers investigate mistakes made in waging the nearly 20-year conflict and its chaotic end.

He said limiting information from the Department of Defense, which he said dates back to 2015, would help Congress and the public assess “whether we should end our efforts” in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense restricted the public release of information on the “operation of the Afghan security forces”, which included “casualty data, unit strength, training and operational deficiencies, tactical and operational readiness of the Afghan military leadership, comprehensive assessments of the Afghan security forces leadership”. and levels of operational readiness, ”Sopko said.

In short, he said, this was “almost all the information you needed to determine if the Afghan security forces were a real fighting force or a house of cards waiting to fall.”

The Pentagon has repeatedly touted the size and strength of Afghanistan’s national defense and security forces as superior to the numerically superior Taliban. In the end, the Afghan army collapsed in less than two weeks when the Taliban flooded the country this summer, culminating in Kabul on August 15 with a barely fired shot.

Sopko also mocked the State Department’s request to “suspend access” to all “audits, inspections and financial audits … reports” on the SIGAR website shortly after Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban in August. The State Department argued that the information in these reports “could jeopardize Afghan allies.”

Sopko said the State Department’s demands did not make sense

The demands, Sopko said, made no sense, as did the demand to correct the name of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a figure already internationally known.

“I am sure [former] President Ghani might want to be cut from the annals of history, but I do not believe he faces any additional threats, nor is there any threat to other Afghans if he mentions his name in our reports, ”Sopko joked.

The state has also asked SIGAR to consider editing the name of the USAID official, Sopko said, although he testified publicly before Congress in 2017 and a video of the testimony is still available.

The state then requested SIGAR to arrange 2,400 new items identified by the department on the SIGAR website. Sopko reviewed the required newsrooms and found that all “except four were unfounded,” he said.

“Due to security and protection concerns regarding our ongoing evacuation efforts, we have requested the temporary removal of certain reports in order to remove identification from public records and protect the identities of Afghans and Afghan partner organizations. SIGAR has the authority to renew reports when it’s appropriate, “a State Department spokesman told CNN. “Identification information is the only detail that should be protected. Due to the amount of information, some entities have temporarily removed reports or entire datasets.”

In late August, CNN requested reports from SIGAR and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which were no longer available on the website. At the time, both offices said they removed the reports “out of caution” at the request of the State Department.

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Sopko said the State Department’s request, along with years of restricting key information about the mission in Afghanistan by the defense ministry, prevents lawmakers, the press and the public from knowing the real situation in the country and what led to its breakup with the Taliban. in such a short time.

Sopko argued that the state and defense should “remove secrecy and make available to CIGAR and Congress all DOD and State Department internal cables, reports, and other material that reflect the security situation on the ground over the past few years – especially those reports. which differed from the public statements of the agencies in Washington. “

To fully understand what happened in Afghanistan and learn from the U.S. military’s 20 years of involvement in the country, more information is needed, Sopko said, calling for greater U.S. government transparency.

“To answer these questions, we need to find out what our government knew, when it knew it, and what it did with that information, if anything,” he said.

This story was updated with a State Department statement.

Jennifer Hansler of CNN contributed to this report.


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