Friday, May 2, 2008

Rubin: Data on Security in Afghanistan's Regional Command/East

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....


Anonymous said...

How do we measure progress?

Often, it is true that insurgents like to be able to move from place to place. But, at the same time, many insurgents expect conventional forces to move into a locality and maintain visible control. When that happens, the insurgents often just move out and hide in the hills or other populated areas. They, the, learn to plan their strategy to do political operations. They learn how a permanent political base has more lasting consequences than do conventional forces guarding roads, bridges, and buildings, etc.

The second point is that often, the insurgents do not win wars; but the government implodes. The insurgents win by default.

With all that in mind, what can we measure to determine how well we are doing?

1. Personally, I like to measure our ability to recruit participation.

2. What about measuring the number and influence of factions?

3. What about corruption?

4. What about completion of government projects that the people want?

5. Then, is it possible to measure government collaboration with village initiatives like protecting schools that the Taliban want to burn?

6. How many village leaders collaborate with both sides?

7. What about measuring the effect of the warlord bullies?

If we do not know enough to measure or at least estimate theses kinds of factors, then we have a serious problem.

Bob Spencer

P├ęter Marton said...

Dear Dr Rubin,
Thank you very much for your response and the additional data.
It's really difficult to interpret, though. My feeling is also that any local gains talked of nowadays might only be temporary as these provinces are more directly affected by whatever is coming from the direction of Pakistan.
I'd say that if the kinetic activity is concentrated to a smaller area - if it is really sustainable that it remain so - it might be good. Less people affected by the consequences of asymmetrical tactics employed by insurgents and counter-insurgents. From a population-centric viewpoint it must be good - if it is sustainable. That's indeed the question.
If e.g. a major part of RC-East is sold out as a relatively less risky AO now to non-U.S. troops, that are willing to go there specifically because of the impression that these areas are less risky, that won't contribute to the sustainability of any gains there.

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