US watchdog slams DoD and State Department over information withheld from Afghanistan exit

by ian

Ian Patrick, FISM News

A recently revealed statement from John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), shows the government watchdog slamming both the Departments of State and Defense for withholding information on the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“In my opinion, the full picture of what happened in August – and all the warning signs that could have predicted the outcome – will only be revealed if the information that the Departments of Defense and State have already restricted from public release is made available,” Sopko writes.

In the statement, Sopko describes how the State Department specifically reached out to SIGAR during the evacuation, asking the watchdog to abstain from using certain information in their reports primarily for safety reasons.

More recently the State Department reviewed the remaining material on SIGAR’s website and made 2,400 redaction requests. Sopko said he found only “four to be without merit,” but adhered to the redactions nonetheless.

A couple of the requests from the State Department included removing any mention of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the name of a specific base in Huntsville, Alabama.

Sopko admitted that he was surprised the State Department was able to look at his reports given the ongoing evacuation at the time, but “it quickly became clear to us that State had little, if any, criteria for determining whether the information actually endangered anyone.”

He also recorded a request from the Defense Department back in 2015 which asked SIGAR to restrict releasing certain information from the time “on the performance of the Afghan security forces.” He admits this appeared to be a request from the Afghan government, but that it was critical information “to determine whether the Afghan security forces were a real fighting force or a house of cards waiting to fall.”

Sopko says that these examples further prove to him that information about the goings-on in Afghanistan would have been crucial for the American public and elected officials to know. In response, Sopko noted that the House Oversight and Reform Committee and its National Security Subcommittee requested for full access to all of the data which he thinks would help people better understand the situation.

He called on the Biden administration to help in this process saying he believes they “should have every incentive to help us deliver the answers Congress has demanded.” He also made the request for SIGAR to have access to “all internal DOD and State Department cables, reports and other material reflecting the security situation on the ground over the last few years.”

Congress has also tasked SIGAR with multiple objectives since the collapse of the Afghani government, including why the government and security forces collapsed despite U.S. effort.

SIGAR is also tasked with determining if there are any risks for reconstruction efforts, the Afghan people, and U.S. intelligence based on what was left behind in the evacuation.