Gunmen attacked a gathering of Sikhs in Kabul in March. A watchdog said the U.S. military reported that Taliban attacks increased above levels seen for the month in previous years.

Photo: Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—The U.S. recorded an increase in Taliban attacks against Afghan forces for March after signing a peace deal with the insurgent group, a government watchdog office said Friday, contrary to hopes that the agreement would lead to less violence.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, said the U.S. military reported that Taliban attacks increased above levels seen for March in previous years. However, the Pentagon said it wouldn’t allow Sigar to release the exact numbers, classifying information that previously had been made public.

Sigar says the numbers were one of the last remaining metrics it could use to measure security in public reports.

But the Pentagon said the figures “are now a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban.” Officials said the data could be made available whenever those discussions end.

The U.S. military also has moved in recent years under both the Trump and Obama administration to classify data used by the watchdog to assess the more than $86 billion the U.S. has spent on Afghan security forces since the start of the war. This includes classifying performance indicators like force levels, readiness and casualty numbers—all figures that previously were made public and have shown a downward trend in progress.

Afghanistan is faced with a dual crisis of continued and escalating violence, and the spread of the new coronavirus, which threatens to push millions of Afghans deeper into poverty in a country where over 14 million people faced food insecurity in March. Food prices are rising and a lockdown is depriving workers of critical income.

The U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban in February to withdraw all U.S. troops within 14 months. In return, the Taliban have promised to ensure the country isn’t used as a haven for terrorists to plan attacks against the U.S. and to start peace talks with the Afghan government.

The agreement has remained in place despite the continued Taliban attacks. State Department officials declined to comment on whether the findings of the Sigar report alter Washington’s outlook on the deal.

The deal provided for the start of negotiations between Afghans and Taliban representatives over the terms of a prisoner swap, but those talks broke off last month with each side accusing the other of negotiating in poor faith. The prisoner exchange is supposed to be the first step toward launching an official peace process as stipulated in the terms of the U. S-Taliban deal, to which the Afghan government isn’t a signatory.

Progress has been overshadowed by a feud among Afghan leaders over the outcome of a disputed presidential election held last year. On Friday, President Ashraf Ghani’s rival, Abdullah Abdullah, said the two were making progress toward a “tentative agreement on a range of principles” to share power. Both held rival presidential inaugurations in February.

The U.S. hasn’t recognized either claim. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a $1 billion aid cut to Afghanistan on his way back from the country after signing the deal, a move aimed at forcing the country’s feuding leaders to prioritize the peace process.

From the Archives

In Doha, Qatar, U.S. and Taliban leaders signed a deal in late February that aimed to end years of fighting. Photo: Hussein Sayed/Associated Press (Originally published Feb. 29, 2020)

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