American citizens would really, really love to know who the country is at war with. However, the Pentagon feels that information is secret. Even when Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Department of Defense for this information in a May hearing, they provided it after the fact. Also, they told Levin's office not to release the information.
This opens up the larger question: if we're at war, and the government won't tell us who we are fighting, why? Is there a reason? Does the government have something to hide? Will a revelation of these enemies have a domino effect regarding classified information? These are questions the government has been slow to answer.
Much of the hoopla surrounds the use of phrases like 'associated forces' and 'affiliates' in speeches and documents. President Obama used the phrase several times in a speech here. The use of these phrases seem to make it unclear about who the enemy is. Also, those in charge of have stressed to us that telling us this information "could do serious damage" to national security interests. What is the rationale for this? Does our government have something to hide? After Edward Snowden's bombshells a couple months ago, it seems that the government is gathering all types of information on us.
The reason most often given for the secrecy is that the affiliate forces will use the label as a badge of honor. According to Penatgon spokesperson Lt. Col. Jim Gregory, "elements...can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States." Gregory and others feel like those splinter groups can, do and will use their enemy status to recruit members to commit violent acts. Also, since drone strikes often target 'associated forces', it is often thought that this is intentionally vague to allow the strikes.