NATO withholds key information on Taliban attacks: US watchdog

NATO withholds key information on Taliban attacks: US watchdog

The United States-led NATO mission in Afghanistan is withholding key information about Taliban attacks, a US government watchdog has said, potentially making insights into the war harder just as the Pentagon begins withdrawing its troops.

The Resolute Support (RS) mission previously disclosed data on “enemy-initiated attacks”, one of the few remaining public metrics of the conflict and the strength of the Taliban and other armed groups.

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In its quarterly report released on Friday, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the RS had stopped providing numbers.

Instead, the NATO mission gave only a short statement noting the Taliban stepped up attacks in March, immediately after the signing of a US-Taliban deal that was supposed to pave the way for peace talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with NATO Secretary General

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a joint news conference in Kabul on February 29 [File: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

“Between March 1 and 31, the Taliban refrained from attacks against coalition forces; however they increased attacks against (Afghan forces) to levels above seasonal norms,” the RS said, according to the report.

Under the deal, foreign forces will quit Afghanistan by July 2021 if the Taliban starts peace talks with Kabul and sticks to various security commitments.

In the week before the February 29 deal signing in the Qatari capital Doha, violence plummeted during a partial truce and US officials hoped attacks would stay low.

Taliban agreed to stop targeting foreign troops

However, the Taliban immediately resumed assaults on Afghan forces.

During the deal negotiations, the Taliban had agreed to stop targeting foreign troops, but there was no such prohibition on attacking Afghan forces.

RS told SIGAR that it chose to restrict data because enemy attacks were now a “critical part” of discussions “regarding ongoing political negotiations between the US and the Taliban”.

SIGAR noted the Pentagon said it might release the information in the future.

The move to withhold attack numbers follows a trend of diminishing insights into the longest US war, which Washington has given up ever winning and is instead trying to end through a political agreement that will provide face-saving cover to leave Afghanistan.

In 2018, the NATO mission stopped providing data on how much of the country the Taliban held or contested, amid criticism the war was mired in an intractable deadlock.

That followed a decision by the Afghan government to classify data on how many of its soldiers and police were getting killed by the Taliban after shocking figures showed several thousand were dying each year.

Data on enemy attacks “was one of the last remaining metrics SIGAR was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan”, the watchdog said.

The Pentagon is on course to cut its troops from about 12,000 to 8,600 in the coming months.

NATO soldiers inspect near the site of an attack in Kabul

The NATO mission gave only a short statement noting the Taliban stepped up attacks in March, immediately after the signing of a US-Taliban deal that was supposed to pave the way to peace talks [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

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