The United States military announced on Tuesday that it was backtracking on classifying key data on the Afghan war, blaming a “human error in labeling” for the incident.
The original announcement prompted a watchdog to criticize the move as limiting public accountability in the 16-year conflict.
For years, the auditing agency, established by Congress and known as 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 US military spokesman for the Resolute Support coalition in Afghanistan, said the classification had been done mistakenly.
“A human error in labeling 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.
Other previously available information on the size, attrition and performance of the Afghan forces continue to be unavailable.
Over the years, the SIGAR auditing effort has revealed many dubious practices by the US, including instances of contractor fraud. Since January 2016 it had published data on the number of governing districts controlled by Kabul, the number controlled by the Taliban, and the number that are contested.
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 center 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 US 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 Defense and Security Forces, or ANDSF.
The US military statement did not include any details about that information.
President Donald Trump has announced a new Afghanistan strategy aimed at breaking a battlefield stalemate by accelerating Afghan-led operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country.
On Monday, Trump railed against the recent string of attacks in Afghanistan, and ruled out any US discussions with the Taliban as part of the effort to seek peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents.