Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
US stops tracking territory controlled in Afghanistan since it was 'of limited decision-making value'
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military has stopped tracking the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Afghan government and militants, a U.S. watchdog said on Tuesday, one of the last remaining public metrics that tracked the worsening security situation in the war-torn country.
The move comes as U.S. and Taliban officials have held several rounds of talks aimed at ensuring a safe exit for U.S. forces in return for a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used by militants to threaten the rest of the world.
The Taliban announced the start of a spring offensive in early April. Even before the announcement, combat had intensified across Afghanistan in recent weeks and hundreds of Afghan troops and civilians have been killed.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report published late Tuesday night that the U.S. military had told the watchdog it was no longer tracking the level of control or influence the Afghan government and militants had over districts in the country.
The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan had told SIGAR that the assessments were "of limited decision-making value to the (RS) Commander."
Colonel David Butler, spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, said that while Resolute Support was no longer doing the analyses, the intelligence community did its own classified assessment of districts controlled by the government and Taliban. He did not speculate on whether the intelligence community analyses would continue or not.
"This much is clear: There's even less information for American taxpayers to gauge whether their investment in Afghanistan is a success, or something else," John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told Reuters.
A January report put districts under government control or influence at 53.8 per cent covering 63.5 percent of the population by October 2018, with the rest of the country controlled or contested by the Taliban.
Experts said that the move to stop tracking the key data was worrying because Washington had publicly set a benchmark which would now be difficult to measure.
In November 2017, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan at the time set a goal of driving back Taliban insurgents enough for the government to control at least 80 percent of the country within two years.
"If the military is not going to be tracking that data anymore, that is going to make it a lot more difficult to get a sense as to how strong the Taliban is," Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson Center, said.
"That may well be the military's intention," he said.
Over the past few years, the U.S. military has restricted data on the Afghan war being shared with the public, including the size of the security forces, casualty numbers and the attrition rate for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
In 2018, the U.S. military said a "human error in labeling" caused it to treat as classified information the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The rest of the report painted a bleak picture of the security situation in Afghanistan.
Citing numbers from Resolute Support, SIGAR said the monthly average of enemy-initiated attacks increased by 19 percent from November 2018 through January 2019 compared to between August to October 2018.
ANDSF casualties increased by about 31 percent from December through February compared to the same three-month period last year.
"The latest data from the few remaining publicly available measures of the security situation in Afghanistan - enemy-initiated attacks, general ANDSF casualty trends, and security incidents - show that Afghanistan experienced heightened insecurity," the report said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)
Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials are warning soldiers and military families to be aware of scammers using the Exchange's logo.
In a news release Wednesday, Exchange officials said scammers using the name "Exchange Inc." have "fooled" soldiers and airmen to broker the sale of used cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and boat engines.
KABUL (Reuters) - The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility on Sunday for a suicide blast at a wedding reception in Afghanistan that killed 63 people, underlining the dangers the country faces even if the Taliban agrees a pact with the United States.
The Saturday night attack came as the Taliban and the United States try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government.
Islamic State fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. They are battling government and U.S.-led international forces and the Taliban.
The group, in a statement on the messaging website Telegram, claimed responsibility for the attack at a west Kabul wedding hall in a minority Shi'ite neighborhood, saying its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of "infidels".
Calling aviation geeks in New York City: The British are coming.
In their first visit to the United States since 2008, the Royal Air Force "Red Arrows" will perform an aerial demonstration next week over the Hudson River, according to an Air Force news release. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels demonstration teams will also be part of the show.
Frances and Efrain Santiago, natives of Puerto Rico, wanted to show their support last month for protesters back home seeking to oust the island's governor.
The couple flew the flag of Puerto Rico on the garage of their Kissimmee home. It ticked off the homeowners association.
Someone from the Rolling Hills Estates Homeowners Association left a letter at their home, citing a "flag violation" and warning: "Please rectify the listed violation or you may incur a fine."
Frances Santiago, 38, an Army veteran, demanded to know why.
A West Point graduate received a waiver from the U.S. Army to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, and play in the NFL while serving as an active-duty soldier.
The waiver for 2nd Lt. Brett Toth was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who said that Toth signed a three-year deal with the Eagles. Toth graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2018.