My debate with David Ignatius on the NewsHour has sparked a discussion about security in NATO's Regional Command/East, has sparked a debate about the reported success of U.S. counter-insurgency efforts. Washington Post "reporter"/government stenographer David Ignatius claimed that "the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has begun to get some traction." In a subsequent post, in addition to criticizing the helicopter tour/PR handout school of "journalism," I cited data showing that in the first quarter of 2008 attacks by anti-government elements in the east had increased 30 percent over the same period last year.
Peter Marton at [My] State Failure Blog reviews the arguments about security in RC/E and notes that it is not the same as the "Eastern Region" (ER) as defined by my source. That ER consists of four provinces (Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, and Nuristan), whereas RC/E includes ten others as well (Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, Bamiyan, Parwan, Panjshir, and Kapisa).
I asked my source to aggregate the data by NATO command and got the following chart for the first four months of 2008 compared to 2007:
This chart shows that throughout RC/E attacks have been only slightly higher this year than last year, though there has been a spurt in the last week of April, when the Taliban announced their spring offensive. It will be important to see if the insurgent surge continues.
Marton cites U.S. military claims (relayed by Anne Marlowe) that the attacks are concentrated in smaller areas. Combined with the above data, the conclusion seems to be that U.S. efforts have confined the same or slightly greater effort by the insurgents to a smaller area. Given the nature of guerrilla warfare, which places a premium on mobility, surprise, and strategic choice of targets, this does not seem like much success.
After this debate, the U.S. embassy in Kabul wrote to offer me the RC/E helicopter tour. I'll take up the offer when I can, but my next trip (forthcoming soon) will be too short. Meanwhile, I wrote my correspondent in Kabul that "It's nice to know that when the government collapses in Kabul, at least Khost will still be secure." He wrote back to say, "You gave my my first laugh of the day, and it's 7 PM here." But he who laughs last....