US-led mission withholds data on Afghan Taliban attacks

Resolute Support only acknowledges spike in attacks after peace deal, according to US watchdog

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 file photo, Afghan special forces stand guard at the site of a suicide bomber attack on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has for the first time refused to publicly release its data on insurgent attacks amid the implementation of a peace agreement between the U.S. and Taliban, a U.S. watchdog said Friday, May 1, 2020. Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which monitors billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan, expressed its concern in its quarterly report, which also discusses the reduction in ground operations of Afghan forces. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
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The US-led Nato mission in Afghanistan has refused to reveal figures on militant attacks for the first time as Washington pushes for the implementation of a peace deal with Taliban insurgents that would allow President Donald Trump to fulfil his promise to bring American soldiers home.

The decision was revealed in the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US government watchdog.

Data on Taliban and other militant attacks “was one of the last remaining metrics Sigar was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan," the watchdog head, John Sopko, noted.

The report said US forces classified all casualty information from Afghan National Defence and Security Forces for the first quarter of 2020. However, the office of Afghanistan's national security adviser earlier this week said the Taliban carried out 2,804 attacks since the peace agreement between the Taliban and US was signed on February 29.

The peace deal committed the Taliban to stopping attacks on troops in Nato's Resolute Support mission, but there was no such prohibition on targeting Afghan forces.

While Resolute Support declined to provide figures, it did acknowledge that the Taliban had stepped up attacks to “levels above the seasonal norms" immediately after the signing of the US-Taliban deal according to the Sigar report.

A Pentagon spokesman said the data on insurgent attacks were important to continuing discussions about the peace agreement.

“It will be releasable to the public when no longer integral to these deliberations, or the deliberations are concluded," Lt Col Thomas Campbell said.

“The US, Nato and our international partners have been clear that the Taliban’s level of violence against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces is unacceptably high," he said.

Under the peace deal, the US has begun to draw down its forces to 8,600 from 13,000, with the remainder withdrawing in 14 months. In return, the Taliban have committed to start peace negotiations with the Afghan government following a prisoner swap, and not to allow Al Qaeda and other extremist groups to threaten the US or its allies.

The Afghan government has announced a 21-member team for the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, but the Taliban have refused to start talks amid a dispute over the implementation of the prisoner swap and a dispute over the presidency between President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who insists he won September’s presidential election.

The prisoner exchange calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel held by the insurgents. So far, the government has released 550 detainees and the Taliban have freed 60 prisoners.

According to analysts, the US-Taliban deal gives the insurgents little incentive to stop attacking government forces.

The Taliban see the agreement as "an end-of-occupation deal", Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank, told Agence France-Presse.

"The US wants out of Afghanistan and it has ceded to all the Taliban demands."

Nishank Motwani, a Kabul-based strategy and security expert, said the agreement had emboldened and legitimised the Taliban, who think they have won the war.

"The Taliban fundamentally believe that victory is theirs," Mr Motwani said.