Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (5 November)

Further Reading

  • Confusion and conflict stir online as Trump claims victory, questions states’ efforts to count ballots” By Craig Timberg, Tony Romm, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Drew Harwell — Washington Post. When the post-mortem on the 2020 Election is written, it is likely to be the case that foreign disinformation was not the primary threat. Rather, it may be domestic interference given the misinformation, disinformation, and lies circulating online despite the best efforts of social media platforms to label, take down, and block such material. However, if this article is accurate, much of it is coming from the right wing, including the President.
  • Polls close on Election Day with no apparent cyber interference” By Kevin Collier and Ken Dilanian — NBC News. Despite crowing from officials like The United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs and U.S. Cyber Command head General Paul Naksone, it is not altogether clear that U.S. efforts, especially publicized offensive operations are the reason there were no significant cyber attacks on Election Day. However, officials are cautioning the country is not out of the woods as vote counting is ongoing and opportunities for interference and mischief remain.
  • Russian hackers targeted California, Indiana Democratic parties” By Raphael Satter, Christopher Bing, Joel Schectman — Reuters. Apparently, Microsoft helped foil Russian efforts to hack two state Democratic parties and think tanks, some of which are allied with the Democratic party. However, it appears none of the attempts, which occurred earlier this year, were successful. The article suggests but does not claim that increased cyber awareness and defenses foiled most of the attempts by hacking group, Fancy Bear.
  • LexisNexis to Pay $5 Million Class Action Settlement for Selling DMV Data” By Joseph Cox — Vice. Data broker LexisNexis is settling a suit that it violated the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) by obtaining Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records on people for a purpose not authorized under the law. Vice has written a number of articles on the practices of DMVs selling people’s data, which has caught the attention of at least two Democratic Members of Congress who have said they will introduce legislation to tighten the circumstances under which these data may be shared or sold.
  • Spy agency ducks questions about ‘back doors’ in tech products” By Joseph Menn — Reuters. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is demanding that the National Security Agency (NSA) reveal the guidelines put in place after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the agency’s practice of getting backdoors in United States (U.S.) technology it could use in the future. This practice allowed the NSA to sidestep warrant requirements, but it also may have weakened technology that was later exploited by other governments as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) allegedly did to Juniper in 2015. After Snowden divulged the NSA’s practice, reforms were supposedly put in place but never shared with Congress.

Other Developments

  • Australia’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security issued a new report into Australia’s mandatory data retention regime that makes 22 recommendations to “increase transparency around the use of the mandatory data retention and increase the threshold for when data can be accessed…[and] reduce the currently very broad access to telecommunications data under the Telecommunications Act.” The committee stated “[t]he report’s 22 recommendations include:
    • access to data kept under the mandatory data retention regime will only be available under specific circumstances
    • the Department of Home Affairs develop guidelines for data collection including an ability for enforcement agencies and Home Affairs to produce reports to oversight agencies or Parliament when requested
    • the repeal of section 280(1)(b) of the Telecommunications Act which allows for access where ‘disclosure or use is required or authorised by or under law.’ It is the broad language in this subsection that has allowed the access that concerned the committee
    • The committee explained:
      • The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (the Committee) is required by Part 5-1A of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act) to undertake a review of the mandatory data retention regime (MDRR).
      • The mandatory data retention regime is a legislative framework which requires carriers, carriage service providers and internet service providers to retain a defined set of telecommunications data for two years, ensuring that such data remains available for law enforcement and national security investigations.
  • Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote a letter “to trade associations urging them to take immediate action to ensure their members are not complicit in China’s state-directed human rights abuses, including by relocating production from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” They stated:
    • We write to express our concerns over reports that the industries and companies that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents have supply chains that have been implicated in the state-sanctioned forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR) and in sites where Uyghurs have been relocated.  The decision to operate or contract with production facilities overseas must be accompanied by high standards of supply chain accountability and transparency to ensure that no company’s products are made with forced labor.  We urge your members to take immediate action to ensure goods manufactured for them are not complicit in the China’s state-directed human rights abuses, including by relocating production from the XUAR.  In addition, we ask your members to take critical, comprehensive steps to achieve the supply chain integrity and transparency American consumers and workers deserve.  It is past time for American multinational companies to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, on efforts to eradicate forced labor and end human rights abuses against workers in China. 
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized a settlement alleging violations of the now struck down European Union-United States Privacy Shield. In its press release, the agency explained it had “alleged that NTT Global Data Centers Americas, Inc. (NTT), formerly known as RagingWire Data Centers, Inc., claimed in its online privacy policy and marketing materials that the company participated in the Privacy Shield framework and complied with the program’s requirements.” The FTC noted “the company’s certification lapsed in January 2018 and it failed to comply with certain Privacy Shield requirements while it was a participant in the framework.” The FTC stated:
    • Under the settlement, the company, among other things, is prohibited not just from misrepresenting its compliance with or participation in the Privacy Shield framework, but also any other privacy or data security program sponsored by the government or any self-regulatory or standard-setting organization. The company also must continue to apply the Privacy Shield requirements or equivalent protections to personal information it collected while participating in the framework or return or delete the information.
    • Although the European Court of Justice invalidated the Privacy Shield framework in July 2020, that decision does not affect the validity of the FTC’s decision and order relating to NTT’s misrepresentations about its participation in and compliance with the framework. The framework allowed participants to transfer data legally from the European Union to the United States.
  • The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) issued a press release, explaining that France’s “Council of State acknowledges the existence of a risk of data transfer from the Health Data Hub to the United States and requests additional safeguards.” CNIL stated it “will advise the public authorities on appropriate measures and will ensure, for research authorization related to the health crisis, that there is a real need to use the platform.” This announcement follows from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) striking down the adequacy decision underpinning the European Union-United States Privacy Shield (aka Schrems II). CNIL summarized the “essentials:”
    • Fearing that some data might be transferred to the United States, some claimants lodged an appeal with the Council of State requesting the suspension of the “Health Data Hub”, the new platform designed to ultimately host all the health data of people who receive medical care in France.
    • The Court considers that a risk cannot be excluded with regard to the transfer of health data hosted on the Health Data Hub platform to the US intelligence.
    • Because of the usefulness of the Health Data Hub in managing the health crisis, it refuses to suspend the operation of the platform.
    • However, it requires the Health Data Hub to strengthen its contract with Microsoft on a number of points and to seek additional safeguards to better protect the data it hosts.
    • It is the responsibility of the CNIL to ensure, for authorization of research projects on the Health Data Hub in the context of the health crisis, that the use of the platform is technically necessary, and to advise public authorities on the appropriate safeguards.
    • These measures will have to be taken while awaiting a lasting solution that will eliminate any risk of access to personal data by the American authorities, as announced by the French Secretary of State for the Digital Agenda.
  • The United Kingdom’s (UK) National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has published its annual review that “looks back at some of the key developments and highlights from the NCSC’s work between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020.” In the foreword, new NCSC Chief Executive Officer Lindy Cameron provided an overview:
    • Expertise from across the NCSC has been surged to assist the UK’s response to the pandemic. More than 200 of the 723 incidents the NCSC handled this year related to coronavirus and we have deployed experts to support the health sector, including NHS Trusts, through cyber incidents they have faced. We scanned more than one million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities and our cyber expertise underpinned the creation of the UK’s coronavirus tracing app.
    • An innovative approach to removing online threats was created through the ‘Suspicious Email Reporting Service’ – leading to more than 2.3 million reports of malicious emails being flagged by the British public. Many of the 22,000 malicious URLs taken down as a result related to coronavirus scams, such as pretending to sell PPE equipment to hide a cyber attack. The NCSC has often been described as world-leading, and that has been evident over the last 12 months. Our innovative ‘Exercise in a Box’ tool, which supports businesses and individuals to test their cyber defences against realistic scenarios, was used in 125 countries in the last year.
    • Recognising the change in working cultures due to the pandemic, our team even devised a specific exercise on remote working, which has helped organisations to understand where current working practices may be presenting alternative cyber risks. Proving that cyber really is a team sport, none of this would be possible without strong partnerships internationally and domestically. We worked closely with law enforcement – particularly the National Crime Agency – and across government, industry, academia and, of course, the UK public.
    • The NCSC is also looking firmly ahead to the future of cyber security, as our teams work to understand both the risks and opportunities to the UK presented by emerging technologies. A prominent area of work this year was the NCSC’s reviews of high-risk vendors such as Huawei – and in particular the swift and thorough review of US sanctions against Huawei. The NCSC gave advice on the impact these changes would have in the UK, publishing a summary of the advice given to government as well as timely guidance for operators and the public.
  • Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has put out for comment a discussion paper titled “An AI Action Plan for all Australians” to “shape Australia’s vision for artificial intelligence (AI).” The department said it “is now consulting on the development of a whole-of-government AI Action Plan…[that] will help us maximise the benefits of AI for all Australians and manage the potential challenges.” The agency said “[t]he will help to:
    • ensure the development and use of AI in Australia is responsible
    • coordinate government policy and national capability under a clear, common vision for AI in Australia
    • explore the actions needed for our AI future
    • The department explained:
      • Building on Australia’s AI Ethics Framework, the Australian Government is developing an AI Action Plan. It is a key component of the government’s vision to be a leading digital economy by 2030. It builds on almost $800 million invested in the 2020-21 Budget to enable businesses to take advantage of digital technologies to grow their businesses and create jobs. It is an opportunity to leverage AI as part of the Australian Government’s economic recovery plan. We must work together to ensure all Australians can benefit from advances in AI.

Coming Events

  • On 10 November, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider nominations, including Nathan Simington’s to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission.
  • On 17 November, the Senate Judiciary Committee will reportedly hold a hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Section 230 and how their platforms chose to restrict The New York Post article on Hunter Biden.
  • On 18 November, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open meeting and has released a tentative agenda:
    • Modernizing the 5.9 GHz Band. The Commission will consider a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order of Proposed Modification that would adopt rules to repurpose 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.895 GHz band for unlicensed operations, retain 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) service, and require the transition of the ITS radio service standard from Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything technology. (ET Docket No. 19-138)
    • Further Streamlining of Satellite Regulations. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would streamline its satellite licensing rules by creating an optional framework for authorizing space stations and blanket-licensed earth stations through a unified license. (IB Docket No. 18-314)
    • Facilitating Next Generation Fixed-Satellite Services in the 17 GHz Band. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose to add a new allocation in the 17.3-17.8 GHz band for Fixed-Satellite Service space-to-Earth downlinks and to adopt associated technical rules. (IB Docket No. 20-330)
    • Expanding the Contribution Base for Accessible Communications Services. The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose expansion of the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund contribution base for supporting Video Relay Service (VRS) and Internet Protocol Relay Service (IP Relay) to include intrastate telecommunications revenue, as a way of strengthening the funding base for these forms of TRS and making it more equitable without increasing the size of the Fund itself. (CG Docket Nos. 03-123, 10-51, 12-38)
    • Revising Rules for Resolution of Program Carriage Complaints. The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would modify the Commission’s rules governing the resolution of program carriage disputes between video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors. (MB Docket Nos. 20-70, 17-105, 11-131)
    • Enforcement Bureau Action. The Commission will consider an enforcement action.

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Much Of The Post’s Afghanistan Scoop Was In Plain Sight

A bit of a deviation here from the usual fare. The Washington Post has begun to publish a series of blockbuster articles on the interviews and materials it has obtained from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), showing that U.S. officials knew very early that operations in Afghanistan were not going well and that the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations have misled the American public about the state of operations over the last 18 years. It seems fair to say, these materials might rival the Pentagon Papers. Much of the material is shocking, especially when one compares the public statements and the private statements of some of the key figures who have been identified thus far.

However, if one had been following the quarterly SIGAR reports, to say nothing of the Lessons Learned series, one was able to see that efforts in Afghanistan were going poorly. In helping clients in my past life, I stayed on top of defense issues, and so I did write ups of a number of the SIGAR reports. Below are the excerpts I could find and reading them leads the reasonable reader to the conclusion that operations in Afghanistan were going poorly across a number of dimensions. Consequently, the Post’s articles lose a bit of their shock value when one turns back to SIGAR’s reports, which have been in the public sphere.

January 2017

This week SIGAR released its assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan and the biggest threats to success for the U.S. and its allies. SIGAR presented “High-Risk List report to the incoming Administration and the new Congress…[that] identifies what we see as the greatest threats to the ultimate success of our more than 15-year-long U.S.-funded reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.” SIGAR noted that since 2002, over $115 billion in U.S. funds have been expended in Afghanistan, “the largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our nation’s history.” SIGAR stated that “[w]hile all eight risk areas outlined in this report threaten reconstruction, the questionable capabilities of the Afghan security forces and pervasive corruption are the most critical.” SIGAR stated that “[w]ithout capable security forces, Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own…[and] [w]ithout addressing entrenched corruption, the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Afghan government will remain in a perilous state.” SIGAR stated that “[i]f these two risk areas are not addressed, I fear that our reconstruction efforts could ultimately fail, to the detriment of our national-security goals in Afghanistan.”

SIGAR identified the following high-risk areas:

  • AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES CAPACITY AND CAPABILITIES: Afghanistan needs a stable security environment to prevent it from again becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda or other terrorists. More than half of all U.S. reconstruction dollars since 2002 have gone toward building, equipping, training, and sustaining the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). However, the ANDSF has not yet been capable of securing all of Afghanistan and has lost territory to the insurgency. As of August 28, 2016,USFOR-A reported that only 63.4% of the country’s districts were under Afghan government control or influence a reduction from the 72% as of November 27, 2015. Capability gaps in key areas such as intelligence, aviation, and logistics are improving, but still hinder effectiveness.
  • CORRUPTION: Corruption continues to be one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction effort. Corruption has eroded state legitimacy, weakening the government’s ability to enlist popular support against the insurgency, discouraging foreign investment and economic growth, as well as seriously diminishing Afghan military capability.
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Much of the more than $115 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment—financially or functionally—without massive, continued donor support. Donors were expected to finance approximately 69% of Afghanistan’s $6.5 billion fiscal year (FY) 1395 national budget (December 22, 2015–December 21, 2016), mostly through grants. At 2016 conferences in Warsaw and Brussels, the United States and other donors pledged to maintain assistance to Afghanistan at or near current levels through 2020.
  • ON-BUDGET SUPPORT: On-budget assistance includes direct assistance (also referred to as bilateral, government-to-government assistance) and assistance that travels through multi-donor trust funds before reaching the Afghan government. On-budget assistance is intended to reduce costs, increase Afghan government ownership, and build the Afghan institutional capacity for managing their own budget. However, on-budget assistance, whether delivered directly or through multilateral trust funds, leads to reduced U.S. control and visibility over these funds. Given the evidence that the Afghan government still cannot manage and protect these funds and may not use them appropriately, the Department of Defense is planning to reduce some of its on-budget assistance.
  • COUNTERNARCOTICS: The cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs puts the entire U.S. investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk. Although the United States has committed more than $8 and a half billion to counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, the country still leads the world in opium production, and Afghan farmers are growing more opium than ever. The Afghan insurgency receives significant funding from participating in and taxing the illicit narcotics trade, raising the question of whether the Afghan government can ever prevail without tackling the narcotics problem.
  • CONTRACT MANAGEMENT: The scope of contracting in support of U.S. objectives in Afghanistan is enormous, but contracting represents a high risk to the success of Afghanistan reconstruction. The usual difficulties of contract management are magnified and aggravated by Afghanistan’s remoteness, active insurgency, widespread corruption, limited ministerial capability, difficulties in collecting and verifying data, and other issues.
  • OVERSIGHT: The ability for trained professionals to conduct site visits is a critical part of effective reconstruction oversight. Unfortunately, accessing reconstruction project sites and programs in Afghanistan has grown increasingly difficult with the U.S. and Coalition military drawdown. Oversight has also been weakened by instances of poor documentation, failure to monitor contract compliance and work quality, and inattention to holding contractors and grantees accountable for unsatisfactory performance.
  • STRATEGY AND PLANNING: A lack of emphasis on planning and developing related strategies means the U.S. military and civilian agencies are at risk of working at cross purposes, spending money on nonessential endeavors, or failing to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan.

July 2017

In a few different media outlets, the Trump Administration signaled that it is no closer to the strategy promised to Congress by July on how to handle U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Unnamed Administration officials in one article suggested that a withdrawal of U.S. troops is being considered, while in an interview President Donald Trump made the case for relieving the commander in Afghanistan of his current duties. Other media accounts suggest Trump is considering a shakeup of his national security team by sending current National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to command U.S. forces in Afghanistan with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo being tapped to succeed McMaster in the White House. And, amidst these competing messages, at least one key Member on Capitol Hill is signaling his displeasure at the state of affairs.

The Trump Administration has been grappling with how to proceed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. McMaster, and other stakeholders, have been pushing for a troop increase to help stabilize the Afghan government, creating space to work with Pakistan, India and other countries in the region to decide upon a plan to end hostilities. Yet, other White House officials, such as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon have resisted further engagement in Afghanistan and have reportedly been pushing to withdraw troops. Even among those aligned with ramping up the U.S. military presence, there have been tensions. According to accounts, McMaster was forced to revise his Afghanistan strategy after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis refused to support a more ambitious broadly reaching plan. Despite reaching agreement on a more plan to deploy 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan, McMaster and others allegedly failed to persuade the President to sign on. In a National Security Council Principals meeting last month, Trump reportedly pushed back against this plan and questioned why the U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan after 16 years. Moreover, it remains to be seen what role new White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly will play in the shaping of Administration policy in the White House beyond trying to formalize communication between staff and the President.

The Trump Administration is beginning to face unrest in Congress regarding plans for Afghanistan. In public hearings before Congress, Mattis had committed to delivering a strategy for Afghanistan by July, and some Members are expressing displeasure at not having received any plan. This week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) even stated he will draft a strategy and add it to the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In a statement, McCain asserted that “[m]ore than six months after President Trump’s inauguration, there still is no strategy for success in Afghanistan…[and] [e]ight years of a ‘don’t lose’ strategy has cost us lives and treasure in Afghanistan.” He declared that “[w]hen the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act in September, I will offer an amendment based on the advice of some our best military leaders that will provide a strategy for success in achieving America’s national interests in Afghanistan.” Should such an amendment be added to the NDAA, it may be another sign the Congress, particularly the Senate, may be taking a more prominent role in foreign and military affairs as evidenced by the passage of a bill to limit the President’s discretion on lifting sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration on Russia.

Likewise, Trump’s comments to NBC that he may relieve U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the Resolute Support Mission General John Nicholson Jr. were met with statements of disagreement. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) both made statements cautioning the White House against removing Nicholson from command. According to media reports, this was not the first time Trump has discussed such a change. In a July 19 meeting with Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Dunford, Trump emphasized that Nicholson should be relieved because the U.S. is “losing.”

In addition to the gains made by the Taliban and associated factions, this week, SIGAR issued another mixed “quarterly report on the status of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.” SIGAR acknowledged that “[i]nsurgents and terrorists carried out a number of deadly high-profile and insider attacks this quarter.” SIGAR noted that “[a]t the same time, there were some positive developments this quarter…[because] President Ashraf Ghani has already begun implementing policies laid out in his forthcoming four-year reform plan for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).” SIGAR stated that “[i]n addition, ANDSF force strength also increased for the second quarter in a row…[and] [t]he number of districts under the control of the government also appears to have stabilized at 59.7%, the same as last quarter.”

October 2017

This week, SIGAR released its 37th quarterly report regarding the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the first in eight years for which that the Department of Defense (DOD) would not provide classified information used by SIGAR to assess U.S. and Afghan efforts.

SIGAR stated that “Afghanistan is at a crossroads…[and] President Donald Trump’s new strategy has clarified that the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorosan will not cause the United States to leave.” SIGAR stated that “[a]t the same time, the strategy requires the Afghan government to set the conditions that would allow America to stay the course.” SIGAR noted that “[e]fforts are already under way to implement the President’s strategy…[and] [b]efore determining new troop levels for Afghanistan, the Pentagon acknowledged in August that there are more than 11,000 U.S. personnel already on the ground, about 3,000 more than the 8,400 figure previously reported.” SIGAR stated that “[o]n August 31, Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis signed new deployment orders to add over 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, which will bring the total to 14,000–15,000 personnel, not including civilians and contractors.” SIGAR stated that “[t]he force increase is expected to expand the advising mission, increase training for Afghanistan’s special operations forces, and allow for increased provision of U.S. air and artillery strikes in support of Afghan forces.”

SIGAR explained that “[i]n a significant development this quarter, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) classified or otherwise restricted information SIGAR has until now publicly reported…[which] include important measures of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) performance such as casualties, personnel strength, attrition, capability assessments, and operational readiness of equipment.” SIGAR Noted that “USFOR-A said the casualty data belonged to the Afghan government, and the government had requested that it be classified.” SIGAR observed that “[m]ore than 60% of the approximately $121 billion in U.S. funding for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002 has gone to build up the ANDSF, so the increased classification of ANDSF data will hinder SIGAR’s ability to publicly report on progress or failure in a key reconstruction sector.”

SIGAR noted that “[e]fforts are already under way to implement the President’s strategy…[and] [b]efore determining new troop levels for Afghanistan, the Pentagon acknowledged in August that there are more than 11,000 U.S. personnel already on the ground, about 3,000 more than the 8,400 figure previously reported.” SIGAR stated that “[o]n August 31, Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis signed new deployment orders to add over 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, which will bring the total to 14,000–15,000 personnel, not including civilians and contractors.” SIGAR stated that “[t]he force increase is expected to expand the advising mission, increase training for Afghanistan’s special operations forces, and allow for increased provision of U.S. air and artillery strikes in support of Afghan forces.”

April 2018

On April 30, the SIGAR released its most recent quarterly report “on the status of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan” for the first quarter of calendar year 2018. While SIGAR reported greater cooperation from the Pentagon regarding statistics that were newly classified last year, the agency also asserted that based on available numbers, it is clear that Afghan forces are getting smaller.

SIGAR stated that it “continued to work with United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) this quarter to maximize the amount of unclassified information that could be provided to Congress and the public on the U.S.-funded mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).” SIGAR said that “[a]s a result of these meetings and other consultations with the Department of Defense (DOD), USFOR-A declassified or allowed the public release of several different types of data related to the reconstruction of the Afghan security forces.” SIGAR stated that “[a]mong them are the assigned, or actual, force strength of the ANDSF, which the latest figures show to be falling sharply over the last year.”

SIGAR explained that “[a]s of March 31, 2018, the United States had appropriated approximately $126.26 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002…allocated as follows:

  • $78.22 billion for security ($4.57 billion for counternarcotics initiatives)
  • $33.00 billion for governance and development ($4.22 billion for counternarcotics initiatives)
  • $3.42 billion for humanitarian aid
  • $11.62 billion for civilian operations

SIGAR stated that of the $126.26 billion, “DOD had disbursed nearly $65.60 billion for ANDSF initiatives.” However, SIGAR stated that “[t]his quarter, USFOR-A provided complete Afghan National Army (ANA) authorized (goal) strength figures in an unclassified format as well as top-line assigned (actual) strength figures.” SIGAR found that:

However, the assigned, or actual, strength of the ANA has decreased since the same period in 2017. As of January 31, 2018, assigned strength was 165,622 personnel, consisting of 74,184 soldiers, 58,678 noncommissioned officers, and 32,760 officers. This figure reflects 4,818 fewer soldiers, or 2.8% less, than January 2017 (not including civilians). The ANA was therefore at 85.4% of its authorized strength in January 2018, down over five points from 90.6% one year prior, which is partially explained by the recent increase in the ANA’s authorized strength.

On May 1, Secretary of Defense James Mattis was posed a question regarding “[t]he message from [the Pentagon] has consistently been that things, the situation is turning around; that things are improving there.” Mattis responded that “I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building…[and] I would not subscribe to that.” He said that “[w]e said last August NATO is going to hold the line…[and] [w]e knew there would be tough fighting going forward.” Mattis asserted that “[t]he Afghan military is being made more capable…[and] [y]ou’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors, and these are the most effective forces.” He declared that “[w]e’ll stand by the Afghan people…[and] the Afghan government…[a]nd the NATO mission will continue, as we drive them to a political settlement.”

At a May 3 press briefing by DOD Chief Spokesperson Dana White regarding SIGAR’s finding that Afghan forces are getting smaller, she remarked “we’re working by, with and through our partners…[and] [t]hat, as the Secretary said earlier this week, these are desperate attempts.” White said that “our goal is to force the enemy to a political solution…[a]nd we’re going to do that.” She asserted that “the enemy gets a vote…[w]e will continue to work…[and] [w]e’re there to stand with the Afghan government.”

January 2018

This week, SIGAR released its 38th quarterly report on U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. SIGAR John Sopko noted in his cover letter “the Department of Defense (DOD) instructed SIGAR not to release to the public data on the number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both…[even though] SIGAR has been reporting district-control data since January 2016, and later added estimates of population and land-area control reported by DOD.” SIGAR noted “DOD has determined that although the most recent numbers are unclassified, they are not releasable to the public.”

SIGAR asserted that “the number of districts controlled or influenced by the Afghan government had been one of the last remaining publicly available indicators for members of Congress—many of whose staff do not have access to the classified annexes to SIGAR reports—and for the American public of how the 16-year- long U.S. effort to secure Afghanistan is faring.” SIGAR claimed that “[h]istorically, the number of districts controlled or influenced by the government has been falling since SIGAR began reporting on it, while the number controlled or influenced by the insurgents has been rising—a fact that should cause even more concern about its disappearance from public disclosure and discussion.” SIGAR added that “[t]his worrisome development comes as DOD this quarter, for the first time since 2009, also classified the exact strength figures for most Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), another vital measure of ANDSF reconstruction.”