ISAF: Oops, Afghan violence didn’t decrease in 2012

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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.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    Good insight. I would also suggest that when possible TLWJ provide, as detailed as possible, information on ‘Force Composition’ on the personnel of the various fronts in which the Islamic Internationale is presently or soon to be engaged.
    For example in the AfPak Theater augmentation of ‘Taliban’ Forces by Pakistani’s & other’s of Foreign Extract has noticeably increased over the last few years. While experiencing a measurable decline of ‘native’ Afghan personnel within the ranks of the Taliban. The ‘fore’ aforementioned is also a direct reflection of what is taking place in Pakistan.
    This Facet of The GWOT has not only been overlooked but neglected particularly by the Main Stream Media. For people to have a much more comprehensive understanding of this now emerged threat(Islamic Internationale) the various parts that form the sum of the ‘Mosaic’ should be better ‘presented.’ Any part of the ‘Mosiac’ that remains fuzzy or shrouded in ‘mystery,’ particularly those parts ‘composed’ of personnel, should be vigorously exposed, extrapolated and dissected.
    Not so long ago TLWJ made available a ‘White Paper’ by one of the GWOT’s better known analyzer’s(‘Think Tankers’?) who speculated on the Haqqani Network serving as a ‘principal’ node in the Islamic Internationale’s network(web?). While there may be some truth to this ‘theory’ it has yet to have shown otherwise. More than anything what it reveals is that after 12 years of intense scrutiny preceded by 4 decades of serious study, analysis, responses, etc., those tasked to ‘solve this problem’ are little more closer to a comprehensive solution than they were close to a century ago.
    Individuals, ‘groups,’ organizations, governments, etc., that comprise the various ‘moving parts’ of this Mosiac(Islamic Internationale) continue to exist in some kind of ‘nebulous miasma’ that for a variety of reasons exist’s beyond the mental capacity of those tasked to neutralize ‘it.’

  • Joe says:

    The reports were specifically done to give certain Commander’s credit for a decrease in enemy activity. This reporting was paramount to the promotions of senior officers.

  • mike merlo says:

    do you have proof?

  • Dave Matthews says:

    Why else would these numbers be reported incorrect? President Obama has been trying to down play Al Qeada (et al Benghazi attack that killed 4 Americans). The General Officer Corps from Patraeus to Allen, have been positioning themselves politically (especially Patreaus) to run in 2016.
    Afghanistan has been the largest waste of blood, faith and treasure in American Military history.

  • mike merlo says:

    @Dave Matthews
    how is what you just posted proof? You’ve done nothing but post a personal opinion.
    Your knowledge of Afghanistan and its significance, like many other’s, is obviously seriously wanting & ‘grounded’ in ignorance. Flutter on Peter Panner

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Hah! I wish Petraeus would run for President, Dave.
    Frankly, we (as in our administration) blew our only shot at any kind of a victory in Afghanistan when they left the surge half-completed after OBL’s death, claimed victory, and decided to pull out. All that’s left now is to leave, hope that Dr. Abdullah or someone who is actually friendly to the US becomes the next Afghan president, and support them as much as we can. Not the best strategy in the world, but that’s what inept government leadership gets you.

  • Wondook says:

    I won’t say too much before the ‘clerical error’ has not found a clarification.
    But allow me to weigh in against the suspicion – actually more than a slight against COM ISAF and senior officers to which I’d take exception – of Mr. Joe: These things happen partly due to delays in assembling all reports and validating them.
    Delays: Given that increasinlgy the action is concerning ANSF as opposed to ISAF, many reports of attacks on ANSF will only enter the database after they were recorded through the Afghan channels, then translated and then analysed.
    Typically, a delay of reports involving Afghan forces’s contact might be six days. E.g. if I look at the 28 Feb daily, I see one report reflecting events on 22 Feb. If my cut-off date for reporting weekly incidents was 24 Feb I obviously did not count this report.
    Validation: The group responsible for analysing this data in ISAF IJC and HQ is also very meticulous. Reports of contacts of ISAF are 100% OK, but we have seen more than one time that reports of engagements by ANSF were not substantiated. E.g. commanders sold ammo, then reported a firefight with no casualties, and requested a refill. Seen it all, and been there. So validating that this report was a real incident is obviously not that easy, as no one in the ANSF chain has an interest in that project. Cautious analyst then leave this incident out of the current statistics.
    Again I am not in ISAF, but I’d think some elements of the above might explain the discrepancy.
    This should not distract us from Mr. Joscelyn’s main argument: What does it tell us that 2011 and 2012 were more or less equal in overall violence? Are statistics like these indicative of where we are going?
    While the numbers of security incidents appreciated along the build-up of the surge (ISAF) and the build-up of ANSF, they fail to drop while ISAF has reduced its footprint considerably, and even more strictly limited operations.
    Possible explanation: The increased numbers in ANSF offer an equally interesting target to the insurgents. Probably for different motives.
    Meaning a society with a lot of guns and a lack of peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms continues to be violent.
    On this metrics’ significance for the future, I tend to disagree with Mr. Joscelyn. ISAF’s and the Afghan Government’s “chief metric” has always been the percentage of population under ANSF control, not “overall levels of violence” which can be caused by a multitude of factors.
    Does this high overall level of violence tell us the insurgency has remained able to punch as before, as Mr. Joscelyn implies?
    Here it would be good to look at indicators beyond the numbers of attacks and look at their effectiveness and outcome. And this is not just a kill ratio. While the casualties among ANSF are definitely up (1,100 KIA in the second half of 2012), the insurgency has failed to take over a single district from the ANSF control. I’d call this a success for ANSF. At high cost they held their ground.
    Comparison backwards to 2006-07: We had “dynamic occupation” of district centers, and by 2008 over 15 districts were free of any government presence, with insurgents running them completely.
    This is a massive difference. In any – hypothetical – negotiations the insurgency right now would have no key territory and only insignificant population under their control.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Woondook, Interestingly enough, ISAF has ceased talking about districts under Taliban/Government control years ago. I think that is telling in itself. We used to see maps, etc. Perhaps I’m cynical, but my guess is if those numbers looked good, you could be damned well certain that ISAF would make the effort to product them.
    It is certainly another difficult metric to discern, however it does appear that districts in Kunar & Nuristan that were claimed to be under government control at time of the surge are currently under Taliban control. Additionally I see reports of areas in Ghazni and Zabul slipping back under Taliban control. You see hints of this in the Afghan press. I also continue to see reports of ceasefires between ANSF & Taliban, and that isn’t a good sign for the government.

  • anan says:

    Wondook, many of your observations are good. Anecdotally many ANSF advisors from the field believe official reports are understating ANSF contact with the enemy, ANSF KIAs and ANSF wounded in action. Sometimes ANSF units keep wounded or dead ANSF on the roles to take care of their families.
    Bill Roggio, the ANSF in Nuristan and Kunar are performing quite well, with astronomical casualties and completely unsustainable levels of ISAF combat enablers (air logistics, medivac etc.)
    The ANA is Zabul are considered quite good (some bns are level 1), but are reported to have tension with the local population because the ANA consist of “foreigners.”
    Some of the ANA in Ghazni are also viewed highly, but again have tensions with the local population.
    Parts of Ghazni are slipping back.
    In general the view in ISAF seems to be astonishment that the ANSF are substantially outperforming ISAF expectations. Probably this reflects the bigotry of low expectations rather than anything else.
    What role did the strong performance (under the circumstances) of the ANSF play in the recent victory by the hawks in Washington?

  • anan says:

    Where does 1100 KIA over the 2nd half of 2012 come from. MoI KIA alone seems to have been greater than 1100 KIA in the second half of 2012.

  • Anan – the number me represent a difference in what they are counting ie ANSF in its entirety; ANA; AUP; ABP ALP – and I doubt ALP often gets counted in many of these metrics – just a thought.
    Wondook – I think you show many great points.
    I think over all the metrics may be swayed by the definition being changed as different personalities are responsible for tracking them and not in any kind of deliberate deceptive tactic.

  • MarcH says:

    “Additionally I see reports of areas in Ghazni and Zabul slipping back under Taliban control”.
    Per OS: Logar and Wardak as well … violence even shot up in Bamiyan in 2012.


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