NightWatch 20101129 - Special Report
29 November 2010
Special Report: October in Afghanistan
Findings: The number of clashes in October in the NightWatch data base, which contains exclusively open source reports on fighting, remained elevated, at 701. The Taliban "victory" offensive continues. NightWatch estimates this number represents a fourth to a half of the actual total, but it includes the most noteworthy fighting actions during the month.
The highlight of the month was the relative calm in Kabul and Parwan Provinces in central Afghanistan. That contrasted sharply with a surge of attacks in Kandahar, the setting for the latest Coalition offensive.
The Taliban exhibited several tactical innovations, compared to earlier years. Most noticeable was an increase in direct fire attacks against Coalition bases. The Taliban also exercised greater care in selecting targets. Most of the time they avoided civilians, except for assassinations of "spies" and suicide attacks in Kandahar, which were calculated to achieve maximum casualties and terror effects. Finally, the Taliban shifted into different districts, compared to a year ago. Most shifts were not an expansion of the fighting from consolidated districts, but avoidance of increased Coalition operations.
The number of provinces infected by the Taliban remained steady at 30 of 34, the same number as in October 2009. Fighting in October 2010 was less concentrated in the 12 southern and eastern provinces, reflecting the Taliban breakout in 2009 into the Pashtun enclaves of northern Afghanistan. The number of provinces that experienced daily clashes dropped to 10 compared to 14 a year ago and 12 in 2008
The number of districts reporting engagements was 193, out of 400. From spring to early winter 2009, the Taliban sustained operations in 200 districts or half the districts of Afghanistan.
The Taliban remain mostly Pashtun. Their operational areas are coextensive with Pashtun-dominated districts, whether in the south or the north. In that sense, they have peaked.
NATO forces remain essential for the survival of the government in Kabul, but they are not numerous nor present enough to make permanent the improvements their operations make in the local security situation. Afghan forces, especially the Afghan National Army cannot operate without NATO support and do not bear the brunt of fighting.
Outlook: Taliban and other anti-government fighters will begin to go to winter quarters in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. The fighting will decline during the winter, but in the core provinces of the Pashtun south, weather should not be a factor.
Based on Taliban public statements, attacks will remain focused on disruption of the overland truck lifeline for Afghan and NATO forces, ambushes of Coalition patrols and assassinations. IEDs will continue as a favorite weapon, depending on outside supplies.
Taliban cannot defeat NATO forces, but NATO forces cannot defeat Taliban, especially without combat air support. Taliban will continue to display more boldness in attacks as long as NATO restricts its use of air power, which is a game changer. The promise of more air support and the introduction of main battle tanks in support of the Marines in Helmand should destroy the Taliban’‘s momentum locally, if consistently applied.
The government in Kabul will remain dependent on NATO forces for its survival for an indefinite period.
Technical note: The special report series on Afghanistan is based exclusively on open source reporting. The data is a sample, but one that has proven reasonably reliable as a guide to Readers about the trends in and status of the security situation during the past four years. The numbers are only valid in the context of this report.
The gaps in monthly coverage are a reflection of sourcing problems.
Monthly Fighting Data
The graph below shows the trend of fighting during the past three years. Most analysts assess the Taliban began their bid to return to power in Kabul in 2006. The graph indicates that they doubled their capacity for clashes every year until 2009 and then grew more slowly or remained steady.
Last year, the NATO command reported anti-government forces engaged in 700 security incidents on election day, 20 August 2009. That effort was a single day high that the Taliban have never repeated. Across the country, the daily average in October 2010 was about 25 clashes.
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