If you never left the Pentagon briefing room and only published regurgitations of their press releases, you would believe that 2010 occasioned a great turnaround in Afghanistan, with progress throughout the country as the Taliban lost its grip on control of several areas. You’d think the momentum was with the occupiers and surrender around the corner. If military spokespeople were the only ones with experience on the ground that you used as sources, that would be your article.

Fortunately, McClatchy steps outside the bubble. And the independent reports contrast the military line.

Citing evidence that Taliban insurgents have expanded their reach across Afghanistan, aid groups and security analysts in the country are challenging as misleading the Obama administration’s recent claim that insurgents now control less territory than they did a year ago.

“Absolutely, without any reservation, it is our opinion that the situation is a lot more insecure this year than it was last year,” said Nic Lee, the director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, an independent organization that analyzes security dangers for aid groups.

“We don’t see COIN has had any impact on the five-year trajectory,” he said, referring to the counterinsurgency strategy that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has championed.

Read the whole thing, because you’ll see a heck of a lot more independent reporting. I’d argue that NGOs have the best perspective on the ground in a war zone, basically the same vantage point for violence as the local population. And their statistics show an increase in insurgent attacks by 66% in the past year. Basically, the US/NATO forces have focused on the south, and the Taliban have adjusted by gaining control elsewhere in the country. NGO employees and UN civil services personnel talk about not being able to use once-safe roads, growing insecurity in formerly secure regions, and growing Taliban control (in all but one of the 34 Afghan provinces). This directly contradicts the security assessment from the White House, repeated by both the Secretary of Defense and the President, that the Taliban controls less territory now than a year ago.

This is nothing you don’t know if you read all the material coming out of the country. The security maps released in the past couple days show a similar picture to what’s described in this article. The military itself has released reports in the past month that insurgents had “qualitatively and geographically expanded” their operational reach, though they quickly papered over that with claims of progress. You can just read unclassified reports and get a sense that the insurgency can project itself across more of the country.

The military official reached for this story claimed that US and NATO forces are protecting the population centers, where quality of life is improving. He wasn’t entirely credible, given the available evidence.

Good for McClatchy to go beyond the press release.

David Dayen

David Dayen