The PR challenge in Afghanistan: suicide bombing, Quran burning, and murky data
The US and NATO continue to offer relentlessly optimistic reports. But they aren’t reversing the erosion of public confidence, and attacks like today's suicide bombing don't help.
(Page 2 of 2)
For example, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there was a 9 percent decrease in enemy-initiated attacks in 2011 compared with 2010. Yet the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) charted a 14 percent increase.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The discrepancy can be partially accounted for by different methodologies. For example, ANSO factors in roadside bombs that are discovered and disposed of, while ISAF does not. Aware of the different methodologies, ANSO still remains critical of ISAF's assessment.
"We find their suggestion that the insurgency is waning to be a dangerous political fiction," writes ANSO in their most recent quarterly report.
ISAF officials say their statistical reports were initially intended for internal use and operational planning. They began releasing the information when it was requested and say they did not alter it in the process.
Additionally, conditions – such as how many troops are in the country – change from year to year, and this affects statistical outcomes, say ISAF officials. For example, more ISAF troops stationed here inevitably means more violence but does not necessarily indicate a worsening situation.
"The main purpose of those stats is to advise our commanders for them to make decisions," says US Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for ISAF. "We feel very confident in our collection method, because ... all our reports come from operational reporting – guys who are on the ground, there when it happens, and reporting it up through the chain of command."
But many other indicators also leave Afghans more pessimistic than NATO. Among those indicators are the number of civilians killed. In 2011, according to the UN, Afghanistan saw an 8 percent rise in civilian casualties. While 77 percent of civilian deaths are caused by insurgents, ISAF considers the protection of civilians a critical part of its mission here.
A doubling of Afghan forces
Still, the military points to other strides that have been made in expanding the quantity and quality of Afghan security forces. In just the past 18 months the size of Afghan security forces has doubled and is becoming more self-sustaining, with 70 percent of training now conducted by Afghans.
Girls' access to education has improved, climbing from about 5,000 girls enrolled in school under the Taliban to about 2.4 million today, according to a report sponsored by multiple international organizations.
The problem with all these figures remains the uncertainty about how big an improvement they represent or if these gains are sustainable. Some data also lose their luster after a closer look. For example, among the 2.4 million girls now enrolled in school, nearly a quarter have been listed as absent for a year or more. Even some active US military leaders have spoken out.
"Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable," wrote US Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis in a controversial, unclassified report released earlier last month.
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.