A Brief I Told You So

by Joshua Foust on 12/27/2010 · 6 comments

The Wall Street Journal has released some UN maps of violence and relative security across Afghanistan. Most remarkable is the deterioration of security in the north:

In the October map, just as in March’s, virtually all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition’s military offensives—remained painted the red of “very high risk,” with no noted security improvements. At the same time, the green belt of “low risk” districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled considerably.

The U.N.’s October map upgraded to “high risk” 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously “high risk” districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating…

The assessments of the U.N. accessibility maps, based on factors such as insurgent activity, political stability, coalition operations and community acceptance, contrast with President Barack Obama’s recent statements that hail the coalition’s progress in the war.

That last comment is kind of the key to this. At the WSJ notes, the Pentagon and the UN agree that Afghanistan is substantially worse off this year compared to every year that’s come before. While a few areas are showing improvement, far more areas are showing a worrying deterioration. And the Obama Administration is, basically, sticking its fingers in its ears and yelling LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.

Kind of comforting, no? But there is an upside. Perhaps counterintuitively, the advance of some insurgent groups into these areas can present an opportunity for a political resolution to the violence. I’ve taken to heart the requests for ideas about how to implement the “call to reason” I signed, which calls for negotiations with Taliban groups to end the war. Later today (I hope!) I’ll write a more thorough treatment of how this advance provides just that opportunity we need.

Previously:
How We Lost Afghanistan’s Once Peaceful North
While You Were Distracted by Marja, Northern Afghanistan Fell Apart
A Call to Reason for Afghanistan


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– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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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{ 6 comments }

M Shannon December 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

There are also areas in the north that the map shows as getting safer. probably smaller areas than are getting worse but they should have been highlighted as well.

I wouldn’t put much store in UN security pronouncements in any event. The UNDSS system for assessing areas isn’t very sophisticated. It would take quite a while for improvements in an area to be recognized as the UNDSS folks, like most security “professionals” will play it safe until their tour is over.

TJM December 27, 2010 at 11:06 am

Not disagreeing with your overall point, but I’d add that the map does not identify the areas where security improved. There are several locations where security improved from “high” down to “medium” and from “medium” down to “low.” The map only highlights the changes from “low” to “medium” and from “medium” to “high.”

M Shannon December 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I should have added that from comparing UN and NATO reports I’d estimate only 1/3 of violence is reported by the UN. Much of this under reporting is due to NATO classifying events as secret and or NOFOR. As for insurgent or criminal incidents that don’t involve attempts at killing someone my guess is that we would be lucky if even 1% are reported. This partly explains why Afghan attitudes are so pessimistic and NATO publicly announced perceptions often wildly optimistic (command optimism and normal military sycophancy probably account for even more false reporting and hopeful analysis than ignorance) .

The only statistic that can be relied on is NATO fatal casualties. Everything else gets under reported, hid, lied about or spun.

Fnord December 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Hey, Andrew Exum and Max Boot says everything will be OK with more drones and SF. So ssssh, and go back to sleep. Victory in 2014!

Will December 30, 2010 at 11:26 am

I can speak to the western portions of the country as I was in Herat, Farah, Ghowr, and Badghis provinces from March until September. Overall, I would say the UN has a bleaker picture than ISAF assessments, sometimes warranted and sometimes not. Sometimes the increase in risk is largely due to an increase in ISAF troops and now insurgents can’t operate as freely.

I don’t think Shindand District in Herat Province is “High Risk” anymore. ISAF has made considerable security progress recently (let’s see if it holds — but I could say that about any of the following districts and provinces I’m about to list). Outside of Shindand, no district in Herat Province should be higher than “Low Risk” with the exception of Gulran district at the Iranian, Turkmenistan, and Afghan borders, but Gulran is more for the vast criminal enteprises not necessarily ideological insurgents.

In Badghis, Ab-e-Kamari and Qal-e-Naw should both be Low Risk. I suspect Ab-e-Kamari is “Medium Risk” because there is a Spanish FOB along the AeK and Muqor district lines. Qadis went from “Medium” to “High” largely because ISAF began sending troops there so overall attacks increased, but if troops weren’t there and insurgents were allowed to operate more freely that shouldn’t lower the risk level, right? Finally in Badghis, Murghab District is an unheralded ISAF success story. What we’ve done to the insurgents in that district since December 2009 is almost unbelievable. High risk seems too high to me. I also don’t like that the UN (!) places Ghormach District in Badghis Province when it has belonged to Faryab Province since 2009, but that is a technicality.

You’ll note that Ghowr is considered “Low Risk.” This is a total joke. No one knows what Ghowr is, because no one goes there! No one! The Lithiunian PRT rarely leaves its HQ. So I wouldn’t believe any assessment that is made, because of insufficient data. The same goes for other portions of the west. Like Farah Province’s districts near the Iranian border, and the district (the name escapes me) in Badghis’s southeastern portion bordering Ghowr. No one ever goes to these places, so an assessment shouldn’t be made.

The UN makes several mistakes with their assessments in the west, in my opinion. I would love to see their metrics. It also makes me wonder if they make these same mistakes in other parts of the country as well.

anan December 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Will, liked your comment. Could we touch base offline? I would like to e-mail you some stuff from 207th ANA Corps and share perspectives on 207th Corps and the provincial AUP.

Herat is better than it was two years ago. Farah AUP have made progress. Interesting Farah AUP were rated higher than the AUP of any Afghan province in the latest section 1230 report. But I keep hearing criticism of the Italians and Spanish [which perhaps should be discounted up to a point]

“Outside of Shindand, no district in Herat Province should be higher than “Low Risk” with the exception of Gulran district at the Iranian, Turkmenistan, and Afghan borders, but Gulran is more for the vast criminal enteprises not necessarily ideological insurgents.” Many have said that.

“Murghab District is an unheralded ISAF success story” Good to hear you confirm that. Been lucking for confirmation that Baghdis really is getting better.

“No one knows what Ghowr is, because no one goes there!” What trade merchents transport goods and services between Ghowr and other provinces?

In general the UN report is . . . let us say incomplete.

Fnord, they have not said that. Do you have any reason to believe the ANSF will not be able to have international security lead by 2014?

Shannon: “Much of this under reporting is due to NATO classifying events as secret and or NOFOR.” Huge problem many have been talking about for years.

“As for insurgent or criminal incidents that don’t involve attempts at killing someone my guess is that we would be lucky if even 1% are reported.” 1% is exxagerated. But in general Afghanistan doesn’t have good metrics on organized crime and ordinary crime. Much that some call “Taliban” are really organized crime and warlords.

“This partly explains why Afghan attitudes are so pessimistic and NATO publicly announced perceptions often wildly optimistic ” Shannon, why do you think ANA attitudes tend to be optimistic? Is it military culture? Is it machismo? Is it that the ANA tends to hang out in big groups and avoids mixing with the people in bluk sized units?

Can you define what you mean by pessimistic? Do you mean that your Afghan friends think that the Afghan civil war will heat up and last a long time? Do they think the Pakistani “deep state” has decided to throw its cards with the Taliban?

Joshua, what do you make of the recent progress in Khost [back to 2008 levels] and Governor Naeemi.

In general, many parts of Afghanistan are seeing more organized and ordinary crime. Simultaneously many Taliban factions are getting weaker. In other words the Taliban are losing. But so in some ways are the GIRoA, ANSF and ISAF. This often hapens in wars.

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