Watchdog: NATO won’t release Taliban attack totals while U.S. negotiates Afghan peace deal

The government’s internal watchdog for Afghan reconstruction said that when the U.S. signed a short-term peace deal, NATO stopped releasing Taliban attack data.

NATO’s military mission stopped reporting the number of attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan after the U.S. signed a peace agreement with the group, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission said it was not releasing the number because attacks by the Taliban “are now a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban,” according to SIGAR’s quarterly report to Congress about Afghanistan.

The U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban on Feb. 29 to begin a weeklong reduction of violence and to start talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

According to the report, Resolute Support said that from March 1 to 31, “the Taliban refrained from attacks against Coalition Forces” but increased attacks against Afghan National Defense Forces “to levels above seasonal norms.”

Since the agreement was signed, NATO’s Resolute Support mission has refused to provide the number of attacks by the Taliban to the public, the report said.

Resolute Support includes about 8,600 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan and a similar number of troops from allied nations.

In a statement, a Defense Department spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, said the attack figures were for official use only but would be “releasable to the public when no longer integral to these deliberations, or the deliberations are concluded.”

Campbell said that enemy attacks during March exceeded seasonal norms and that “the U.S., NATO and our international partners have been clear that the Taliban’s level of violence against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces is unacceptably high.”

Resolute Support had provided attack information to SIGAR since September 2018 as one way to measure the security situation in the country. In the past two years, the command has classified other information about security that was once publicly available, including assessments of how many districts the Taliban controls, as well as Afghan Security Forces casualty information.

The report also found that COVID-19 is threatening Afghans’ health and the country’s fragile economy.

Afghanistan has a weak health care infrastructure and poor sanitation throughout the country. As of April 15, Afghanistan had conducted 4,470 tests in the entire country.

The International Organization for Migration reported that more than 226,000 undocumented Afghan migrants had traveled from Iran, along with more than 1,900 from Pakistan, in the first three months of the year. With COVID-19 outbreaks in both countries and the low number of Afghans being tested, the report warns, Afghanistan is especially vulnerable to an outbreak.

The report found a positive trend in a 32 percent reduction in the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan from Jan. 1 to March 31 compared to the same period last year. Last year was the sixth year in a row that Afghanistan had more than 10,000 civilian casualties.