World News

U.S. military backtracks on blocking Afghan data

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Tuesday that a “human error in labelling” recently caused it to classify key data on the Afghan war, after a watchdog report criticized the move as limiting public accountability in the 16-year-old conflict.

For years, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has published a quarterly report that includes unclassified data on the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Taliban and the Afghan government.

In a report published late on Monday, SIGAR said it had been told it could no longer publish some information traditionally included in the quarterly report.

In a sudden about-face on Tuesday, Captain Tom Gresback, a U.S. military spokesman for the Resolute Support coalition in Afghanistan, said the classification had been done mistakenly.

“A human error in labelling occurred ... The data is not classified and there was no intent to withhold it unnecessarily,” Gresback said in a statement.

As of October 2017, about 56 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence, Gresback added.

Afghanistan has been reeling over the past nine days from a renewed spate of violence that is putting a new, more aggressive counterinsurgency strategy under the spotlight.

An ambulance bomb in the city centre killed more than 100 people, just over a week after an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Kabul, killed more than 20, including four U.S. citizens.

Monday’s SIGAR report said the military had classified, for the first time since 2009, the actual and authorized total troop numbers and attrition rate for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, or ANDSF.

The U.S. military statement did not include any details about that information.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown