james mcintyre

The government watchdog agency that oversees U.S. efforts in Afghanistan says it can no longer assess the security situation in the country because the U.S. military is withholding data about the increase of Taliban attacks against Afghan forces, as U.S. attempts to broker a peace deal make little progress, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"NATO Resolute Support (RS) restricted from public release data on the number of enemy-initiated attacks (EIA) that took place this quarter for the first time since SIGAR began using it in 2018 to track the levels and locations of violence," said John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in his latest quarterly report to Congress. "This EIA data was one of the last remaining metrics SIGAR was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan since RS discontinued its previous system of assessing district control in 2018."


The report notes that no sooner had the Taliban signed a withdrawal agreement with the United States than the group increased its attacks on Afghan security forces, in violation of the spirit of secret annexes in which the Taliban committed to lower the overall level of violence in return for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Comment: Isn't it odd that the Taliban would agree to a reduction in violence in order to facilitate US withdrawal from the country and then, suddenly, attacks attributed to the Taliban increase, thus voiding the agreement, meaning the US would have to stay in Afghanistan. One question we should be asking is: Who really benefits?

The U.S. military will only say that while the Taliban have kept their promise not to attack U.S. or coalition forces, they have increased attacks against Afghan troops "to levels above seasonal norms."

"Although not all such attacks are expressly prohibited by the text, U.S. officials had said they expected the level of violence to remain low after the agreement came into effect," Sopko said.

The explanation given by the NATO-led mission is that the exact number of Taliban attacks is "a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban." The Pentagon has indicated that the data may again become releasable to the public once the deliberative process ends.


The report also notes, "The COVID-19 pandemic hit Afghanistan hard this quarter, with impacts that rippled across the peace talks, the security situation, the economy, the return of refugees and migrant workers, and the health and well-being of the Afghan people."

The spread of COVID-19 is complicating prisoner releases and face-to-face engagements between the parties, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation. For example, the report notes, "the first Afghan government-Taliban 'technical' talks on the release of prisoners were through video conference. There are further concerns that intra-Afghan negotiations could be significantly hindered if a large number of prisoners on either side contract or die of the virus while in captivity."


"These attacks reinforce that the recent deal between the United States and the Taliban is a disappointing chapter of America's war on terror," writes retired Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who served as commander of NATO's Regional Command Southwest in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. "The current deal with the Taliban is unwise ... Withdrawing too soon or without proper preparation could unwind years of hard-fought victories that have cost American lives and dollars."

"Washington will need to send clear signals to Kabul about what it will and will not tolerate from the Taliban," Mills writes in an opinion piece published this week. "Violating the cease-fire should halt any further concessions or withdrawals."

"America should leave some soldiers in Afghanistan to help train and assist the Afghanistan military. If the Taliban is still unwilling or unable to uphold its end of the bargain by reducing violence, the United States should not withdraw further forces," Mills argues. "The United States should prepare to engage with a future Afghanistan government where the Taliban has considerable influence. Leaders should look to the example of the working relationship that America shares with Vietnam even after the communist takeover."


It's not often you get an official press release with a headline "Bombs away!"

But that was the almost-giddy pronouncement from Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq in releasing a video that showed the destruction of an intricate tunnel and cave systems in Iraq's Hamrin Mountains Wednesday.

The airstrikes, directed against 10 targets, are believed to have killed between five and 10 Islamic State fighters, but the actual total is unknown since much of the cave complex is inaccessible after the strikes.

"After the strikes, the 14th Iraqi Army Division and security forces found ISIS documents, electronic devices, and fragments of weapons and other equipment," said the coalition release.

"Strikes like these help our Iraqi partners maintain relentless pressure on the [ISIS] scourge, no matter where these terrorists hide," said Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.


As promised, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is building the case to overturn, by legislation if necessary, the Federal Communication Commission's recent unanimous decision to allow Ligado Networks to build a terrestrial 5G network that the Pentagon insists will interfere with GPS signals crucial to national security.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled its first in-person hearing since the coronavirus pandemic in order to hear from opponents to the decision, including Dana Deasy, DOD chief information officer; Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering; retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen; and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond.

"Both publicly and privately, the Department of Defense has expressed serious concerns about the risks Ligado's planned usage poses both to military equipment and ancillary equipment used by the military, industry, and everyday Americans as well," said Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. "Given that the FCC has made its decision, it's critical our members understand the national security implications and what steps the military will need to take to mitigate these effects if the decision is not reversed."


The Pentagon has released the department's annual report on sexual assault in the military, which shows the number of reports of assaults up 3% for fiscal year 2019 compared to 2018.

But the Pentagon argues the increase does not necessarily mean the rate of sexual assault is increasing because "a prevalence study was not conducted this year."

Nate Galbreath, the deputy director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said that without that report, in which service members can anonymously report assaults, he couldn't say whether the crime rate went up.

"I can't really tell you if I'm getting a larger percentage of people who've experienced sexual assault to come forward without that survey," Galbreath said on a conference call for reporters. "I'm cautiously optimistic that is good news."

"Sexual assault happened much less than it ever had, and it's reported at a much higher rate," Galbreath said. The reporting rate in the military has increased fourfold, from 7% in 2006 to 30% in 2018, according to the report.


Army leaders yesterday defended President Trump's decision to address the 2020 graduating class at West Point in person, requiring some 1,000 cadets to return to campus for a ceremony that will require social distancing.

The cadets he said will be screened at Camp Buckner before being allowed to proceed to campus. "So they'll come back, they'll stage for one day, we'll screen them, test them ... and then we'll onward move them on to West Point," said Williams, explaining the cadets would be segregated the 14 days before the ceremony.

"They'll eat separately, they'll live separately, and we'll make sure that they are ready to join our great United States Army."


Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters yesterday that she's seeing the defense industrial base slowly coming back.

"Out of the 10,509 companies [the Defense Contract Management Agency] tracks, 93 are closed, down 13 from last week; with 141 companies having closed and reopened, up very significantly, 73 from last week's number of 68," Lord said. "This is the first time we have seen reopening numbers larger than the number of closures."

"Out of the 11,413 companies DLA tracks, 437 are closed, with 237 having closed and reopened, up almost 100 companies from last week," she said. "Domestically, while we have seen some minor improvements, we continue to see the greatest impacts in the aviation supply chain, shipbuilding, and small space launch."


The State Department has approved the possible sale of six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and related equipment to the Philippines for an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency reported yesterday.

The principal contractors will be Boeing, Mesa, Arizona, and Lockheed Martin, Orlando, Florida.

"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South-East Asia," said DSCA in a release.