(U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There has been a sharp drop in the size of Afghanistan's National Defense Security Forces in the past few months due to changes in the way troops are counted and an effort to reduce the number of so-called "ghost" soldiers, a U.S. government watchdog said on Thursday.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report that ANDSF personnel size had gone down by nearly 10 percentage points in the most recent quarter compared to the previous trimester.

The number of ANDSF troops fell by nearly 42,000 compared to roughly the same period, between April and the end of June last year, the report said.

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The deployment of the first of the Army's specially-trained Security Force Assistance Brigades to Afghanistan in 2018 was supposed to be something of a moment of truth for a Pentagon stretched thin by the ever-expanding Global War on Terror.

But according to the U.S. government's chief watchdog for the U.S. military campaign, the units that were supposed to act as the tip of the spear for the Army's newfound emphasis on "advise-and-assist" missions have a major problem: they simply can't find enough soldiers to get the job done.

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So, how goes the never-ending war in Afghanistan? According to the United States's top government oversight authority on it, well, we don't know and can't say.

"Almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent," John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), told Wednesday. "Over time, it's been classified or it's no longer being collected ... The classification in some areas is needless."

To be clear, Sopko isn't just saying that the Pentagon has opted to keep more information on its progress in Afghanistan classified — he's saying that the Pentagon has outright ceased gathering critical data on whether the United States is actually succeeding or failing after sinking 17 years, 2,400 fallen service members, and $900 billion dollars into a seemingly endless conflict.

This isn't just alarming statement coming from a government watchdog, but a level of mind-numbing epistemic gymnastics on par with Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns."

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U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson

Finally, a bright spot amid 17 years of war in Afghanistan: insurgent control of the country has started to diminish for the first time in nearly two years, according to a quarterly report to Congress from the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published on July 30.

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New efforts to stamp out corruption among Afghan government officials and extricate the U.S. military from Afghanistan are going, well, terribly, according to a new report to Congress from the Special Inspector General Report for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

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U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Scanlan

In an abrupt about face, the U.S. military released data Tuesday showing insurgents in Afghanistan are growing stronger after a Pentagon auditing office complained it had been prohibited from releasing the unclassified statistics.

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