Code 59607
PublishDate: Saturday, April 20, 2013 11:31

Study Finds Sharp Rise in Attacks by Taliban

There were 2,331 attacks by armed opposition groups in the first quarter, compared with 1,581 in the same period last year, an increase of 47 percent, the statistics show.

One of the closest-kept secrets in Afghanistan these days is data about how active the insurgents have become in their spring offensive this year.

No one doubts that the Taliban have stepped up their attacks, but what is less clear is whether they are trying — or able — to mount an all-out attempt to test the Afghan security forces as they begin to take over completely from withdrawing foreign forces. By early summer, Afghan forces plan to be in charge throughout the country, with American and other allies in a supporting role.

The American military, which last year publicized data on enemy attacks with meticulous bar graphs, now has nothing to say.

At the ministry, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, asked if he could divulge the number of enemy attacks that had occurred this spring, had only one word to say: “No.”

According to a respected independent group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, the recent increase in violence has been dramatic, based on data for the first quarter of 2013, which the organization released Thursday.

There were 2,331 attacks by armed opposition groups in the first quarter, compared with 1,581 in the same period last year, an increase of 47 percent, the statistics show.

“We assess that the current re-escalation trend will be preserved throughout the entire season and that 2013 is set to become the second most violent year after 2011,” said Tomas Muzik, the director of the NGO office. That year was the most violent of the war, with the most attacks and victims.

One key finding is that attacks by the insurgents against international military forces make up only 4 percent of the first-quarter total, compared with 73 percent against the Afghan security forces (most of the rest are against civilians connected to the government in some way). It is a measure of the degree to which the Afghan government is bearing the brunt of the fighting, as international forces begin withdrawing their last 100,000 combat forces — 68,000 of them American, a process expected to be complete by the end of 2014.

The Taliban have complained that American troops “have lost all will to fight mujahedeen head-on in the battlefields,” according to a statement released Tuesday on an insurgent Web site that is monitored by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The NGO office data also shows that the war has substantially shifted in focus. The main battlefields had been in the southern provinces, from Helmand across to Paktika, Paktia and Khost. Now the focus has shifted to eastern provinces that are farther north, Laghman, Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan particularly, with new fronts developing in western parts of the country that were once little affected by the war.

That shift has largely been to areas where foreign military forces are already thin on the ground. According to the analysis, that raises challenges for Afghan security forces to move into new areas. “Until the Afghan national security forces demonstrate an ability to ‘hold’ deteriorating provinces where they stand alone, they cannot be viewed as successfully filling the gap left by international military forces,” the report said.

While the Ministry of Defense refused to give latest figures for Afghan casualties, one ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of orders against releasing the information, said ministry data showed that 1,183 soldiers were killed in the year ending March 20, compared with 841 in the year ending March 20, 2012, an increase of 40 percent.

In addition, the official said, the data showed that Afghan forces had killed 4,664 enemy fighters that year, and captured 6,401. Since most Western estimates are that the Taliban’s active strength is on the order of 20,000 to 25,000 fighters, that would represent more than half of the insurgents’ total numbers, which seems unlikely given the increased tempo of insurgent attacks.

In February, the force said that because of a clerical error, it had incorrectly reported that what it called “enemy-initiated attacks” had dropped 7 percent in 2012 compared with 2011; the figure had actually remained constant. The force acknowledged the error after The Associated Press asked why the report containing the statistic had been removed from the coalition’s Web site; from then on, the force stopped publishing the information.

Anecdotally, there have been a steady series of attacks on Afghan forces this spring, involving substantial casualties. In Kunar Province on April 12, an Afghan National Army outpost was overrun and all 13 soldiers killed. In western Afghanistan, 10 Afghan soldiers and 34 civilians were killed in an attack on a government compound on April 3.
(New York Times)


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