Is Afghanistan safer, or isn't it?
The UN and Petraeus appear to disagree.
With NATO handing over security control of parts of Afghanistan to local forces today, and with US top commander Gen. David Petraeus's departure from the theater declaring the war is on the right track, you'd think it's been a good summer so far for US forces and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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But it's getting increasingly hard to parse the real nature of the war, particularly since the statements of US officers like General Petraeus on the security situation are dramatically at odds with some of their international partners.
It's hard to know who to believe. And that's a problem for anyone trying to make informed judgements about how well the war as going as many NATO partners start to pull out and US forces plan a drawdown of their own.
At his departure ceremony Monday, Petraeus told the officers and soldiers gathered to hear him: “You and our Afghan partners have wrested the momentum from the enemies of the new Afghanistan in much of the country." He added: "Contrary to intelligence analyst forecasts of significant further increases in insurgent attack levels this year, the number of attacks the past two-and-a-half months was actually less than the number for the same period last year, even though there are over 80,000 more Afghan and ISAF forces this year and we have been on the offensive."
The United Nations has a very different take in its reports on the second quarter of 2011 and on the first half of the year, though perhaps the UN is using different metrics.
It's possible that when Petraeus says "attacks" are down he's referring to attacks on NATO troops or some other limited measure. Also, the 2-1/2 month period Petraeus refers to – May, June, and the first two weeks of July – may present a different statistical picture than the April-May-June period looked at by the UN.
But a June 23 report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to the UN General Assembly reported a sharply deteriorating situation in the second quarter of the year. "During the reporting period, the number of security incidents was 51 percent higher than in the same period in 2010," UNAMA wrote. In the second quarter of the year, 1,090 civilian conflict deaths were recorded by the UN, a 20 percent increase during the second quarter of 2010.
Overall, the UN has presented a grim picture. Whereas Petraeus told the troops Monday, "you have taken away from the insurgents important areas in the former Taliban heartland, in places like Central Helmand Province and Kandahar," the UN said that Kandahar is the most violent place in Afghanistan.
The UN's report for the second quarter says "the city of Kandahar and its surroundings registered the majority of the incidents during the reporting period, with a quarter of the overall attacks and more than half of all assassinations recorded countrywide."