Afghanistan: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

Even when significant U.S. casualties have been sustained as in the Battle of Wanat, the anti-Afghan forces have suffered greater losses.  In fact, in one recent engagement with the Marines, the Taliban suffered 50 losses as compared to none by the U.S. Marines.  This lends prima facie credibility to the notion that the Taliban are reverting to standoff tactics such as IEDs.  DoD data indicates that roadside bomb attacks are up sharply.

Afghan militants directed 3,276 roadside bomb attacks at Western troops last year, a 45 percent increase from 2007, U.S. Defense Department figures indicate.

The jump in the use of the bombs, or improvised explosive devices, highlights the more aggressive tactics being employed by militants against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, USA Today reported Monday.

Some 161 troops from U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan were killed by IEDs last year, more than doubling in 2007 death toll of 75, Pentagon data show.

In Afghanistan, “an emboldened, increasingly aggressive enemy has increased the use of IEDs,” Defense Department spokeswoman Irene Smith told the newspaper.

But it was Mark Twain who popularized the phrase that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.  It isn’t just roadside bomb attacks that are up sharply.

Taliban fighters are increasingly hitting their targets directly instead of relying on bombs, according to a year-end statistical review that contradicts a key NATO message about the war in Afghanistan.

Public statements from Canadian and other foreign troops have repeatedly emphasized the idea that the insurgents are losing momentum because they can only detonate explosives, failing to confront their opponents in combat.

But an analysis of almost 13,000 violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, prepared by security consultant Sami Kovanen and provided to The Globe and Mail, shows a clear trend toward open warfare.

By far the most common type of incident, in Mr. Kovanen’s analysis, is the so-called “complex attack,” meaning ambushes or other kinds of battle using more than one type of weapon. The analyst counted 2,555 such attacks in 2008, up 117 per cent from the previous year.

Bombings also increased, but only by 63 per cent year-on-year for a total of 2,384 successful and attempted strikes in 2008.

Mr. Kovanen has spent years tracking the conflict in Afghanistan, first as a NATO officer and most recently at the newly established Kabul-based consultancy Tundra Strategic Security Solutions. The latest trends are disturbing, he says, because the Taliban need more manpower to launch complex ambushes.

“Clearly they are not as weak as the military claims,” Mr. Kovanen said.

The Globe and Mail then provides the following metrics.

IED attack
2007, 779
2008, 1,266

IED attempt/discovery
2007, 681
2008, 1,118

Complex attack
2007, 1,180
2008, 2,555

Total 2007, 5,113
Total 2008, 7,791

This data indicates what The Captain’s Journal has claimed for one one year now.  The security situation is degrading in Afghanistan.  There are fairly routine reports of how bad it is for the Taliban, usually from sources such as the Strategy Page with this report.  But the Strategy Page gets some of its information and analysis from official intelligence sources, the same ones which allow the damned lies to cloud the lies.  In the case of the Globe and Mail report, precise and comprehensive statistics cleared up the mess for us.

The U.S. Marines gave us a picture of what counterinsurgency can look like during their operations in the Helmand Province, and the statistics showed what the population knew about the campaign.  The security improved with the Marines in place.  The ISAF is yet to take up the challenge.




You are currently reading "Afghanistan: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics", entry #1989 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Statistics and was published January 27th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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