As I have chronicled in this space, administration apologists such as Ann Marlowe and David Ignatius have been claiming Eastern Afghanistan in general and the tiny province of Khost in particular as proof of U.S. success in Afghanistan. (And Registan.net has been dogging their steps.) Marlowe, whose work has been featured in the Washington Post, National Review, Weekly Standard, and Wall Street Journal, claimed in in May that, far from being resurgent, "in the 14 provinces that make up Regional Command East [RC/E] in Afghanistan [the Taliban] are a defeated military force." Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist who mistook a one-week embed for journalism, "reported" that in RC/E "the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has begun to get some traction."
I guess they had a visit from the Republican good news fairy. I am not so blessed. I have to rely on information. Of course my information is pretty superfluous, considering that the U.S. Department of Defense reported last week that Taliban attacks in RC/E this year were up 40 percent over last year. After rebutting Ignatius on the NewsHour, I have been periodically updating the data on Taliban and other anti-government and anti-international forces attacks in Afghanistan in general and RC/E in particular. Here's the latest, covering the first 25 weeks of 2008 and comparing them to 2007.
First, total number of nationwide incidents by week, 2008 compared to 2007:
Here's the regional breakdown and total statistics (these regions are not identical to the NATO regional commands):
This shows that total incidents are up nationally by 38 percent (991 over 717). Of course this could result from the poor performance of our week-kneed NATO allies, who have no counter-insurgency skills. So let's take a look at RC/E, where the U.S. is applying all the lessons of the Petraeus doctrine:
These data show an increase of total incidents in RC/E from 1,159 in 2007 to 1,521 in 2008, an increase of 31 percent. The 2007 figures include a huge spike in week 23 of 2007, which consisted largely of about 40 small IEDs in Khost aimed to intimidate (not kill) Afghan officials and security forces. Without that one-day incident, the increase of 2008 over 2007 is 36 percent, virtually the same as nationwide.
Of course all of RC/E is not the same: what about Khost province, "the crown jewel in the American counterinsurgency strategy," according to Ann Marlowe? My source reports 269 attacks so far this year in Khost, up 22 percent from last year's total of 220. So the greatest achievement of U.S. counterinsurgency in Afghanistan has been to hold the escalation in violence in Khost to a bit more than half of the national level of increase. This actually speaks well for the U.S. team in Khost: that province directly borders on Pakistan's North Waziristan Tribal Agency, where Taliban leaders Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani maintain their sizable headquarters, including joint training with al-Qaida, without any visible disturbance from the Pakistan military. (Actually, according to Afghan intelligence, so far uncontradicted by the U.S. government, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate organized Haqqani's attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April. It is unfair to hold the civilian government in Islamabad accountable for the situation in the tribal areas or the activities of the ISI. More on this in another post.)
But if these results speak well for the U.S. team in Khost, they do not speak well for U.S. strategy. Counter-insurgency is not graded on a curve; not succeeding is failing. So far, that's still where the indicators point.