​ US ends blackout on Afghan air strike data

The US has resumed publishing detailed information about its airstrikes in Afghanistan after declaring the information too sensitive for public release one year ago.

The policy reversal follows reporting on the blackout by the Bureau and concern among civil society groups that military transparency has sharply declined under US President Donald Trump.

In a new report posted on its website on Thursday, the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said that it had carried out 465 strikes in September 2018 and detailed where and when each one was launched. The Bureau’s Shadow Wars team will be analysing all that information this month and publishing it here.

The Bureau gathers data on US airstrikes that is used by academics and researchers trying to understand patterns in military campaigns and their relationship to civilian casualties. For most of the period from September 2016 to October 2017, the Bureau received a monthly breakdown of air operations from the NATO mission.

In October 2017 however, this information was abruptly withdrawn, and Bureau reporters were referred to an aggregate summary of sorties instead, which missed out key information. When asked why, a Resolute Support spokesman said that they no longer wanted to give so much information to the enemy.

The report published on Thursday was more detailed even than the information released before October 2017. Resolute Support did not respond to questions from Bureau reporters about what had prompted the apparent change in policy.

If such reports continue on a monthly basis, they will likely be seen by civil society groups as a welcome disruption of the trend towards declining transparency on military issues.

When the Bureau reported on this trend in February, Hina Shamsi, the director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, explained why it was so disturbing.

“It hides the costs and consequences of US lethal force from the public in whose name the military conducts operations”, said Shamsi.

Main photo: A F-16 Fighting Falcon is refuelled over Afghanistan (US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)