Congress now requires a "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" every six months (or, every Friedman Unit), and the latest (large pdf) has very gloomy news. Here is the best spin that the Defense Department’s accompanying press release could come up with:

Stability in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline, and most Afghans believe that despite increased violence, security actually has improved since this time last year, according to a new report Pentagon officials sent to Congress today.

Notice that "despite increased violence part"? Here is the ugly truth behind that spin:

Afghanistan violence

The reality is that since the beginning of 2007, violent events in Afghanistan, by the Defense Department’s measurements, have doubled, and the trend is still decidedly in the direction of more violence.

When it comes to assessing the strengths of the insurgency, here are the bullet points:

Insurgent Strengths:
The speed and decisiveness of insurgent information operations and media campaigns remain not only the insurgents’ main effort, but also their most significant strength.
Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.
The ability to intimidate through targeted killings and threats in order to force acquiescence to their will.
The strength and ability of shadow governance to discredit the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan Government is increasing.
IED use is increasing in numbers and complexity; IEDs are as much a tactic and process as they are a weapon.
Insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect.

Hmmm. Doesn’t "ability to intimidate through targeted killings and threats" sound familiar? Especially if it is intended to "force acquiescence"? That sounds very much like the night raids that are a central feature of General Stanley McChrystal’s vaunted COIN strategy. Despite the knowledge that night raids are a central driving force for the recruitment of new insurgents, especially when night raids result in the the death or imprisonment of innocent civilians, here is the extent of the explanation of McChrystal’s changes to the night raid strategy:

The Night Raids Tactical Directive, issued on January 23, 2010, raises the threshold that must be achieved before a tactical night raid can be approved. The directive applies to the conduct of night raids by all conventional and SOF in Afghanistan under command of COMISAF. This directive acknowledges that the Afghan population’s judgment of our conduct and perception of our intentions will be critical in their decision to support their nation’s struggle against the insurgency. While night raids are effective and their operational value is understood, the new directive recognizes the cultural dynamics and acknowledges that night raids’ success comes at a steep cost in terms of perceptions of the Afghan population. Therefore, COMISAF directed that night raids should be executed only after all other courses of action have been considered. This directive outlines a number of the planning and execution factors that must be considered if night raids are to be conducted in order to ensure that they are tactically sound, judiciously used, and as transparent as possible.

Note the order of priorities in this description. The primary consideration is that "night raids should be executed only after all other course of action have been considered", rather than the later mention of them being "tactically sound" and "judiciously used", which presumably means that efforts should be made to eliminate faulty targeting of innocent civilians, although it would be more reassuring if they would say that directly.

Perhaps the most revealing information on where the situation in Afghanistan is headed comes in the assessment of the security situation in "key districts". Here are the data from late December compared to mid-March:

security situation

That poor security situation has a direct impact on the feelings of the local population. Here is how the New York Times described the population polling information:

In 92 districts assessed for their support of the Afghan government or their antagonism to it, not one supported the government, although the population was neutral in 44 districts. The number of districts sympathetic to the insurgency or supportive of it increased to 48 in March 2010 from 33 in December 2009.

That’s right, in the most recent half Friedman Unit, we went from 33 key districts with support or sympathy for the insurgency to 48. How’s that for an effective surge? By the Defense Department’s own analysis, the insurgency is getting stronger and increasing its efficacy at the same time that it is gaining control in more districts. How on Earth can they then claim that "Stability in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline"?

Jim White

Jim White

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