Short-Term Memory Loss

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by Joshua Foust on 8/25/2009 · 8 comments

There’s nothing specifically wrong with the facts in this story. The problem is one of tone: It is presenting the security challenges in the Eastern part of the country as if they are something new, or something that had gone away when the U.S. chose to focus on the South.

That is simply not the case: events in the East have been violent for quite a while now, like since 2002 or so. Khost, Ghazni, Paktia, Kunar, and even Nangarhar have been violent, dangerous places since at least 2006, and have shown steadily worsening violence statistics ever since. It wasn’t even until either 2007 or 2008 (depending on the source and the statistical methods used) that Helmand and Kandahar became relatively more violent… but that doesn’t mean the East somehow because less violent as a result.

So please, MainStreamMedia: how about providing us with some of that context you say you do better than blogs? Because it really would make me more willing to, I don’t know, buy your product.

Photo: Deh Yak overwatch, Ghazni province, 2007.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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anand August 25, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Joshua, I haven’t seen any evidence that violence in the East has increased from 2008. However, half of all attacks in the East take place in one province . . . Konar. It might be useful to discuss Konar, and the rest of the East separately. Much of the East has one substandard ANA brigade (2-201 ANA), and problematic ANP to cover it.

The good news in the east is that the best ANA Corps 203 covers Paktia, Gardez, Ghazni and Khost. There are also decent ANP in Khost and Gardez. Do you have data on the ANP in Paktia and Ghazni?
A good map is on page 10 from:

My view is that 203 ANA is ready to take ownership of its 4 provinces, their PRTs and their reconstruction, if it gets one super embedded US brigade. The South, Kunar and the West are far from being ready.

Joshua Foust August 26, 2009 at 6:47 am

Anand, there are reports detailing a 41% increase in attacks in Eastern Afghanistan. Now, you might argue that it’s all concentrated in Kunar, but my contacts on the ground in Khost say that that province—despite the increased presence of ANSF—is more violent than it was even in 2008.

What’s your basis for declaring Ghazni, Paktia, and Khost ready for a reduced American presence? Why’d you separate Gardez out from Paktia? What about Paktika?

David M August 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/26/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

anand August 26, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Thanks for the data Joshua. I stand corrected on the east. There have been several Mumbai style attacks in Khost; however I have been impressed by how the ANP and ANA have responded to them.

My perception of readiness to assume battlespace (with one ISAF brigade super embedded in 203 ANA, and one ISAF brigade super embedded in the ANP in those four provinces) is based on increased ANSF capacity, which I think have outpaced the increased threat levels.

BTW, who do your contacts think are attacking Khost? Is it Haqqani? How many of the attackers might be Pakistani Pashtu or Pakistani based groups? Is there any evidence for significant popular support in Khost for Haqqani, HiG or the Taliban?

I don’t have good data on Paktia’s (and its capital Sharon’s) ANP. Do you? Sharon has one of the best brigades in the ANA (2-203.) So does Khost (1-203 ANA.) Ghazni’s ANA (3-203) are younger and might be less capable.

I have seen some newspaper reports questioning Paktia’s ANP; but don’t know how reliable these reports are. I would also appreciate your perspectives on ANP in Khost, Gardez and Ghazni.

I don’t understand your question on Gardez and Paktia. They are different provinces.

I think that if the ANSF are given responsibility for battlespace and the PRTs and reconstruction in it, that they would perform better, and grow in capabilities faster. This happens to correspond to the view that several advisers to the ANA have expressed.

Unfortunately, the only ANA Corps capable of this right now is 203 ANA. So we have to start with them. This isn’t the current strategy (which seems to be spreading out 4th bde 82 Airborne–a SFA augmented brigades–to many provinces and ANA Corps rather than to a single ANA Corps.)

Joshua Foust August 26, 2009 at 3:54 pm


Couple basics: Sharan(a) is the capital of Paktika, not Paktia, and the site of the largest FOB in the province. Gardez is not a province, it is the capital of Paktia and the site of the largest FOB in the province.

That being said, I have seen a lot of indications that the ANSF, at least in Khost, are slowly getting better. They have certainly done well for themselves in the recent attacks on Khost City. As for who’s doing it, I would assume Haqqani, but that’s just because he’s from there. I have no specific reason to assume that’s actually him.

anand August 26, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Thanks for the correction:
I confused Paktika with Paktia.

Perhaps the best brigade in the ANA covers Paktia. The ANP in Paktia might be the best in Afghanistan (although the ones in Kabul and Mazar seem pretty good too.)

Paktika has perhaps the second best brigade in the ANA (2-203), but I don’t have good data on the Paktika ANP.

In 2008 briefings, it was hinted that many foreign fighters were in this region (compared to the South and elsewhere in Afghanistan.) The main threat was described as not the Taliban but Haqqani, although HiG was also discussed a bunch. There was a lot of discussion in briefings about operations by the Punjabi Taliban (many of these were mentioned by name: Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar e Jhanvi, Sipah a Sahaba, Harakat al Mujahaddin.)

However, a lot can change in a year. I would be curious about what your sources think is going on now.

Joshua Foust August 26, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I’m not sure it’s fair to call the Haqqani’s “foreign,” since they’re actually from Khost, but that’s probably a larger issue (same with HiG, though obviously with a different part of Afghanistan). I’m not sure about the Pakistani groups — my understanding was that most of them focus most of their efforts on Pakistan. So even if there are *some* actions taken, it’s not a major part of the insurgency or a major threat.

Most of the fighters, even if they hide in Pakistan, are actually from Afghanistan. At least, that is my impression — I’ve not undertaken a comprehensive study of the phenomenon.

anand August 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for passing along that Pakistani groups are “not a major part of the insurgency or a major threat” near Khost. One new data point out of many. It seems to be a thread that Pakistani based groups are causing a smaller percentage of Afghan violence this year than in 2008 and 2007.

Joshua . . . this is confusing. Trust me, it confuses me to. Modern Afghanistan was created in 1747 by the Persian General Baba Durrani after the death of the Persian emperor. At that time, Afghanistan included Punjab and Kashmir. Here is a map:
As a result, some Pashtu feel that these areas are still part of traditional Afghanistan.

The modern Kashmir conflict began when three Pathan Pashtu tribes from both sides of the Durand line entered Kashmir in November, 1947. Haqqani’s forces and many other Pashtu fought in Kashmir in the 1990s. These forces returned to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of what are described as “Punjabi Taliban” are also Pashtu . . . not sure what to make of that.

In the context of the region, is a Pakistani Pashtu really a foreign fighter? He might authentically consider himself an Afghan, and he does have at least a partial point. Haqqani “IS AN AFGHAN PASHTU” who has many Pakistani Pashtu and Afghan Pashtu fighting for him.

Of Afghanistan’s 33 million people, maybe 13 million are Pashtu. Pakistan has perhaps thirty some million Pashtu. So is the population of Afghanistan 33 million or is it 33 million plus many millions of Pakistani Pashtu? Difficult question to decisively answer. Modern borders are nebulous concepts that might have limited meaning on the ground. The question of who is an Afghan got further confused when millions of Pakistani and Afghan Pashtu lived side by side inside Pakistan in the late 1970s, and in the 1980s and 1990s.

As an aside, I wonder how many Taliban fighters are retired Pashtu Pakistani Army soldiers. Is there data on this?

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