NATO Forces

Operation Ready or Not Continues: ISAF’s January Incident Rollup

No, that picture has nothing to do with this post. It’s Hall and Oates. Move on. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has released its monthly trend numbers. Since I like charts (Excel 4eva!) and self flagellation, apparently, I took a look at them, hoping that there might be a ray of light at the end of the dim tunnel that is the American experiment in Afghanistan. There is, if you consider a 10% increase in the number of dead Afghan civilians a positive thing. Which, I don’t, so…beer. 

It’s the end of January, which means two things: a Presidential inauguration, and the monthly release of perfectly transparent ISAF numbers. ISAF puts these out, well, monthly, under the (valid) assumption that the American public will a) not bother to read them since b) LUPE FIASCO HATES AMERICA! WE MUST HATE ALL THE THINGS! On the whole they’re right, but folks like me who have little better to do with our time than wonder if anyone’s done a really good lip dub to Hall and Oates, like ever.

And then we blog.

ISAF’s usual take on the numbers is that they show progress, which is true, if you take the numbers at face value, and you think dead Afghans is progress. Given how little explanation ISAF gives for why those numbers are the way they are, this is actually kinda hard to do. Take, for example, this chart that makes it clear that things in the last few months of 2012 were…stellar. An 18% decrease in Enemy Initiated Acts (EIA)? Champagne for everyone! We win! USA! USA!

Picture1Surge, shmurge…numbers just fix themselves

Wondering what changed? Probably has nothing whatsoever to do with this:

The last of the 33,000 ‘surge’ troops ordered into Afghanistan by President Barack Obama more than three years ago have withdrawn from the country, returning the US presence to pre-surge levels.

So yeah…September. And that happened. Which, since it comes before October, there is the possibility, however slight, that said reduction in troops equates to a reduction in violence. While it’s an argument full of weak sauce to contend that if we weren’t here the Taliban would just pack it up and go home, there is a definite correlation between fewer targets (33,000 fewer, to be precise) and a reduced propensity toward attacking those targets. Mainly ‘cuz they’re not there. From the report, this:

After the peak in June 2012, EIAs continued to drop through December.

Fairly safe to assume that the June timeframe probably coincided with a major phase of the removal of those surge troops. So, fewer targets (troops) ergo…fewer incidents. This is borne out by this happy little info nugget about the state of the Afghan National Army:

The Afghan government has hit a grim record in its quest to take over the country’s security from coalition forces: more than 1,000 soldiers died in 2012, a roughly 20 percent increase from 2011.

So while EIAs were reportedly down, Afghan forces, who are now being thrust into the lead as part of Operation Ready or Not (aka, “Not Terribly Graceful Exit”) are dying in greater numbers.

Yeah, it’s only slightly less awkward than that.

In one year, Afghan forces lost almost half as many troops as the United States has lost since 2001. Those…are not wonderfully cheerful numbers. While one plausible explanation is that it’s because Afghans are in the lead, that still doesn’t answer why they’re dying in numbers exponentially higher than casualties suffered by their US counterparts.

And now, the good news

It’s not all sunshine and roses. Not by a long shot. ISAF has divided the country into six Regional Commands (RCs), and two of those actually saw an increase in EIAs over the last year:

  • In RC West, EIAs in 2012 increased 17% compared to 2011.
  • In RC North, EIAs in 2012 increased 26% compared to 2011.

To be fair, those two RCs combined only account for nine percent of nationwide EIAs for the last 12 months. But a double-digit increase in any part of the country should be cause for concern. Especially when one considers that RC Capital (you know, Kabulistan) saw an 18% decrease in EIAs year-to-year, but only accounted for less than one percent of nationwide EIAs last year. And there’s this:


It’s not terribly easy to read, but in the East, South, and Southwest, there’s a distinct decrease in EIAs (that’s the blue lines) beginning in…yup, September. Which, again, was after we withdrew the last of the “surge” troops. And therefore can point to things looking up, kids.


Well sure, they’re dead…but…we didn’t kill them, so…winning!

Which brings us to “Executed IED Attacks,” which ISAF claims are down 18% in 2012, compared to 2011, which is great, unless you’re an Afghan civilian. Why’s that?

January 2012

Over 60 percent of civilian casualties caused by insurgents result from indiscriminate IED explosions.

January 2013

In 2012, 70% of civilian casualties caused by insurgents resulted from IED explosions.

Not sure why they use the word “indiscriminate” in 2012, but a 10% increase in Afghan civilian casualties being caused by IEDs? Since the overall number of attacks decreased, that means that the insurgency is increasingly impacting the civilian population. Painfully. And as US forces with all of their uber-shiny counter IED (CIED) equipment withdraw, and the ANSF step up with their limited resources, that’s not likely to change for the better anytime soon.


While it’s true that ISAF has focused (with quite a bit of success, it must be said) on reducing the number of civilian casualties (CIVCAS) caused by coalition forces, what’s clear  is that overall CIVCAS isn’t being reduced in significant numbers. So ISAF isn’t killing as many Afghan civilians, but they’re still dead just the same.

And that’s all, folks!

While overall violence against ISAF and the ANSF is down, more Afghans (both civilian and military) are dying the closer we get to winding this whole thing down. I’m not sure in what universe that equates to a success, but I’m pretty sure we’ll hear from ISAF on that in the not too distant future. While it’s true that there is a measurable reduction in violence, it’s dishonest to pitch this as a security improvement on the whole. Saying that the ANSF are in charge doesn’t mean they’re ready to be in charge, and in the meantime, more Afghans keep dying. Which, if you’re an Afghan, isn’t winning at all.

Until next time, you stay on the sunny side!

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  • Well… Is EIA still only counted against ISAF forces? Because that means the transition to ANSF can further hide increased attacks against ANSF and (ir)regular militias (all Afghans so don’t really count in this war). The ones that don’t show up now that the surge has subsided…

    Also of course, the insurgency IED-caused deaths does not automatically mean “targeting civilians”. A lot of the attempted attacks seem to end in premature detonation over the little asphalt bumps and a much of the high-casualty events are mini-buses packed with civilians that hit IEDs placed on ISAF-intense roads. It is not s much targeting as incompetence.

    Does that make any practical difference for the victims? No, they are just as dead. But I am a stickler for details and the meaning of words because next thing you know, someone will accuse the US of targeting civilians in drone strikes. Luckily of course, we all know “beard” means “militant”.

    • Yeah, I think the EIA is just the ISAF numbers. ‘cuz the ANA numbers are probably fairly horrible. And I did tweak that one phrase. You’re right, they’re not the targets, but they do get caught in the crossfire.

    • Not sure that someone HAS to, but it does give me something to do.