4 Threat Matrix: ISAF: Oops, Afghan violence didn't decrease in 2012

Written by Thomas Joscelyn on February 27, 2013 10:14 AM to 4 Threat Matrix

Available online at: http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/02/isaf_woops_afghan_violence_did.php

Last September, we began covering the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) "monthly trends" on violence in Afghanistan. [See here, here and here.] ISAF, US military officials, and officials in Washington had been citing an overall decrease in the number of "enemy initiated attacks" (EIAs) as evidence that the Taliban's "momentum" had been broken. We looked at the data and came to a different conclusion: While the surge of American-led forces in southern Afghanistan clearly made a difference, the overall level of violence in Afghanistan remained worse than prior to the surge.

Late last year, ISAF published a new report supposedly showing that the number of EIAs had decreased in 2012, as compared to 2011, by 7 percent. The numbers seemed fishy to us for a variety of reasons, but not entirely implausible.

In any event, it turns out that the supposed decrease was phony. The Associated Press reports:

The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan incorrectly reported a decline last year in Taliban attacks and is preparing to publish corrected numbers that could undercut its narrative of a Taliban in steep decline.

After finding what they called clerical errors, military officials in Kabul said Tuesday that a 7 percent drop in "enemy initiated attacks" for the period from January through December 2012 reported last month will be corrected to show no change in the number of attacks during that span.

The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the coalition's website until it was removed recently without explanation. After The Associated Press inquired about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data and would re-publish the report.

Our assessment of the overall level of violence in Afghanistan remains the same. The number of EIAs remains greater than prior to the 2010 surge. Yes, this is just one metric for judging the situation in Afghanistan, but it is the chief metric that ISAF and US officials have repeatedly used. And it does not show that the Taliban-led insurgency's "momentum" has been broken in any meaningful sense.

Interestingly, this most likely would have still been the case even if the number of EIAs had decreased by 7 percent in 2012, as erroneously reported by ISAF. Unfortunately, that level of violence would still have been greater than prior to the surge. ISAF and US officials like to use 2010 as their base year for comparison because this shows that subsequent violence is not at the peak level. The problem is that the violence is still far worse than it was in the years prior to 2010 -- that is, before the shift in Afghan strategy, which was only short-lived.