Taliban step up operations in the north, ISAF buries head in sand
Last September, President Barack Obama claimed that the US-led military effort had "broken the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead." That same month, then US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta maintained that 2012's frequent insider attacks, the "green-on-blue," were evidence of the "last gasp" of the al Qaeda-allied group.
We here at The Long War Journal/Threat Matrix have disagreed with that position on Afghanistan as put forth by the Obama administration and the Department of Defense, and have stated that the situation in the country has not improved despite some tactical successes in the south [see LWJ report, Analysis: The Taliban's 'momentum' has not been broken]. We still maintain this view. Oddly enough, ISAF's own statistics supported our case [see also LWJ report, ISAF analysis shows Afghan violence remains worse than before surge].
And in February of this year, NATO's International Security Assistance Force had to admit that its data, which didn't support its case for an improving security situation, was fatally flawed to begin with. Shortly after this error was reported, ISAF stopped its monthly statistics updates, claiming that the Afghan data used to create the reports were unreliable. You can be sure if the Afghan statistics reported were good news, ISAF would have continued with the monthly reports.
Today the UN reported that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were up by 23 percent in the first six months of 2013 when compared to the same time period in 2012. While a rise in violence may be expected with the drawdown in Coalition forces and reduction in key combat enablers such as air strikes, the fact that the Taliban can significantly increase the violence should dispel the notion that the Taliban are the spent force portrayed by the Obama administration and ISAF.
In addition, this grim report at Der Spiegel yesterday on the security situation in the Afghan north shows that Germany, like the US, continues to bury its head in the sand as bad news rolls in:
Meanwhile, the security situation in the country is continuing to deteriorate. Instead of the stabilization it had hoped for, ISAF's Kabul headquarters now receives almost daily reports of dead and wounded soldiers. The casualty numbers declined in 2012 but have risen sharply since the beginning of this year.
"The security situation in some of the known problematic regions in the north has worsened appreciably since the beginning of the spring offensive," reads a July 11 internal diplomatic cable from the German consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif. Last Monday it emerged that the Taliban has killed 2,748 police officers just in the past four months.
Note that Taliban attacks are intensifying in areas where ISAF forces are no longer present. And also note that the special operations raids are rarely occurring in these areas, according to a German diplomatic cable mentioned in the Der Spiegel article:
The Taliban's attacks target the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which for six weeks now have been officially responsible for protecting the people here. "Against the background of the transition process agreement, the number of attacks on ANSF forces and civilians has seen a sharp increase," the diplomatic cable from Mazar-e-Sharif reads. The Taliban feels "freer" in the provinces where the international troops have withdrawn, the cable continues, particularly as nighttime raids are rarely carried out there anymore.
Like the US and ISAF, the Bundeswehr is suppressing bad information in order to project a positive image of the mission. By ignoring Afghan statistics, the Bundeswehr is doing exactly what ISAF did in March when it decided to end its reporting on the security situation: claim that the Afghan statistics are imprecise. The Der Spiegel report continues [emphasis added below]:
This has serious consequences for development projects, the diplomats warn. They fear even the legitimation of the Afghanistan mission itself is at stake and that it will no longer be possible to credibly convey the mission's "core message" -- that Germany will remain involved in long-term civilian development aid "regardless of the conclusion of ISAF."
Germany's Defense Ministry, too, is starting to sense that the Afghanistan mission, already unpopular among Germans, is in danger of becoming a PR disaster with its constant stream of bad news.
In response, the Defense Ministry's strategists have adopted a new communications strategy -- ignore all bad news and banish any data that show an increasing number of attacks to the realm of statistical imprecision. The logic here is that, now that the Bundeswehr itself only rarely carries out missions, it is dependent on statistics from its Afghan partners, which aren't necessarily reliable. The new policy is to redefine the security situation in ways that no longer rely exclusively on the available statistics. Anything that doesn't fit is made to fit.
With the Taliban and their allies showing no sign of letting up on military operations, the pipe dream of negotiations with the Taliban dead on arrival, and Pakistan's continuing state sponsorship of the Taliban, the situation is not likely to improve as Coalition forces draw down. Meanwhile, the US and the West are whistling past the graveyard. We'd all better get used to this.