In its regular report, published on Tuesday, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US government watchdog for Afghan reconstruction, said it had been instructed by the Department of Defense (DOD) not to release to the public data on the number of districts (and their populations) controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both.
Such information has been one of the last remaining publicly available indicators for the US Congress and the general public of the progress in the United States' 16-year-long involvement in Afghanistan, SIGAR noted.
After the SIGAR revelations, the Pentagon admitted that silencing the watchdog was a mistake.
In a commentary to the US CNN broadcaster on Tuesday, the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan attributed the failure to disclose the data to human error. The mission also said that as of October 2017, around 56 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts were under government control or influence, while 30 percent remained contested, and approximately 14 percent were under insurgent control or influence.
TWO OPTIONS FOR US AFGHANISTAN MISSION
"Conditions in Afghanistan are rapidly worsening and officials in Kabul and Washington would like to engage in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of the war with minimal scrutiny from the American public. The US ultimately may have two options: stay in Afghanistan for the long haul, expending more human lives and taxpayer money; or cut its losses and withdraw within a few years." Arif Rafiq, a non-resident fellow at the US-based Middle East Institute think tank and a fellow at the Center for Global Policy, told Sputnik.
Washington’s move to withhold the SIGAR data was partially caused by requests of the Afghan government, which did not want to disclose the record-breaking casualty counts of its own security personnel, Rafiq suggested.
"The new statistics could galvanize the Trump administration to take a renewed military interest in Afghanistan. As a consequence, this may lead to increased military presence, investment and operations. The new figures could also be a wake-up-call to the US defense establishment and the Commander-in-Chief (i.e. President Trump) to fold the operations in Afghanistan completely and leave the fate of Afghanistan to the Afghans," Amalendu Misra, a senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, told Sputnik.
Misra suggested, however, that the second option seemed unlikely in the immediate future since Trump had vowed to vanquish the Taliban terror group in Afghanistan.
"Neither option is politically sellable. And so to give itself greater strategic flexibility, Washington must keep the American public in the dark," Rafiq pointed out.
Asked why Pentagon was interested in withholding information that showed insurgent control growing in Afghanistan, Misra said that the United States did not want to appear weak.
"Especially at a time when there is a massive offensive by the Taliban across the length and breadth of Afghanistan. And, [the Taliban militants] seem to be succeeding in their adventurism. Admitting to the growing insurgency could be bad for the morale of US and Afghan troops, bad for coalition military posturing and bad for US’ international image," the expert suggested.
TOO EARLY TO SPEAK OF THE TALIBAN "FULLY" CONTROLLING AFGHANISTAN
In its study, released earlier on Thursday, the BBC broadcaster found that Taliban militants were active on about 70 percent of the Afghan territory — they fully controlled 4 percent of the nation and were present in the remaining 66 percent.
"It cannot be denied that the Taliban are a power to reckon with. Yet, it is too early to speak of the Taliban ‘fully’ controlling Afghanistan. Their repeated assault against civilians and government interests goes on to suggest their determinism to succeed," Masri noted.
The Taliban’s successes in launching major attacks in Kabul speaks volumes about unpreparedness of the Afghan government and the US military for such attacks, the expert added.
If Taliban militants continue their offensives they can certainly debilitate the current Afghan government and unravel the military preparedness of the Afghan defense forces, Masri said.
The expert continued by referring to the Pentagon's recent statistics, saying that there are around 15,000 US troops in Afghanistan, which is a negligible power base compared to that possessed by the Taliban and the population that supports it.
"This knowledge has significant effect on the masses who live under the Taliban control or lend their support to these non-state actors. Under the circumstances how could one expect [the US forces] to make any significant dent in the powerbase of the Taliban? Or, curtail their control over the vast stretches of territory?" Masri stressed.
NATO currently maintains its 13,000-strong Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. The mission does not carry out combat operations, as it is provides training and assistance to the Afghan security forces.
NATO's decision followed Trump's August announcement to introduce a new strategy in the US war in Afghanistan. Changes provided in the strategy included lifting the restrictions on US forces to attack the Taliban and other militant formations in Afghanistan previously imposed by the administration of former US President Barack Obama.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.