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NightWatch 20110127 - Special Report

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NightWatch

30 January 2011

Special Report: November 2010 in Afghanistan

Findings: The Taliban sustained a nationwide offensive in November, featuring the highest number of clashes and security incidents in the largest number of districts in the NightWatch data base. Clashes and incidents totaled 1,629, more than doubling the 701 recorded in October 2010.

The highlight of the month was the new threshold of fighting, almost evenly divided between attacks initiated by Coalition forces and anti-government fighters.

The number of provinces affected by the insurgency rose to 33 for the first time since early 2009.

Fighting in November 2010 was widespread. The anti-government forces displayed a new ability to sustain attacks for a month over a wider area than ever before. For the first time, many groups fought daily in a handful of districts, a periodicity normally associated with organized military forces. In some areas, fighting approached the optempo and style of conventional light infantry firefights.

The NATO command acknowledged that November 2010 featured the highest number of Improvised Explosive Device incidents, but the direct and indirect attacks also were at unprecedented levels for a single month.

The number of districts reporting engagements was 231, out of 400, compared to 193 in October 2010. This is the largest number of districts on record, surpassing the 2009 offensive, but signals no permanent expansion of the fighting. Hundreds of attacks outside the Pashtun south were individual drive by gun discharges to show presence

Measured by results, much of the effort was wasted in the sense that casualties in all categories did not rise commensurate with the surge in operations and the Coalition forces lost no areas. Taliban and anti-government fighters used lots of ammunition in extending their reach, but not their grasp.

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. November appears to represent the peak of their fighting capabilities. Reporting from December shows a returned to the October level of fighting, but no winter stand down.

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: The fighting usually declines during the winter. Weather reports indicate a mild winter thus far. In the Pashtun south fighting never takes a vacation.

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 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.

Monthly Fighting Data

The graph and table below show the trend of fighting during the past four 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, until the spike in November 2010.

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, but in November anti-government forces showed they could sustain twice that number for 30 days.

Month

Clashes 2008

Clashes 2009

Clashes 2010

January

66

282

February

60

301

March

107

782

368

April

199

357

May

222

658

501

June

314

818

July

319

August

330

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