Stats on Afghan progress turn out to be incorrect

  • Article by: Matthew Rosenberg
  • New York Times
  • February 27, 2013 - 12:14 AM

– U.S. officials, when looking to quickly illustrate progress in Afghanistan, have in the past few months highlighted a 7 percent drop last year in what they call “enemy-initiated attacks.” But the numbers were wrong.

The U.S.-led NATO coalition said Tuesday that it had discovered a clerical error in its reporting and that the number of enemy-initiated attacks — defined as attacks with guns, mortars, rockets or improvised explosive devices — remained constant from 2011 to 2012.

Even though the mistake may be embarrassing, it is not likely to greatly change perspectives about how the war is going. That is in part because, outside of official circles, few analysts have seen the violence statistic as good news.

In fact, the same measure, when looked at over a wider sample of years, actually depicts a dramatic growth in violence since 2009, when U.S. commanders first began inching toward a counterinsurgency strategy that focused on reducing violence rather than solely on battling militants.

The coalition has sought to overcome the problematic numbers by saying that 80 percent of the enemy-initiated attacks have taken place in areas where less than 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people live. But with no public comparative data for years past, it is not clear whether that represents a change or just a long-standing feature of the war.

On Tuesday, the coalition said the mistake in the 2012 numbers resulted from the omission of a few months’ worth of data on enemy-initiated attacks from the Afghan security forces. The error was inadvertent, it said, and was discovered during what was described as a “quality control check.”

Once the Afghan numbers were added, it became apparent that statistics released by the coalition were incorrect, and the report that included them was removed from the coalition’s website.

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