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NightWatch 20101129 - Special Report

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NightWatch

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.

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

September

266

October

314

626

701

November

441

December

292

Total

2930

2884

(incomplete)

2510

(Incomplete)

Analysis of the Provinces

The table below shows the trend of violence for the core provinces of the insurgency. In the NightWatch sample, a core province is one in which the Taliban sustained at least one clash every two days.

The red color signifies the provinces with the worst security conditions. The yellow highlighted provinces are those in which security conditions deteriorated or remained serious. Green shows improvement or relative quiet.

One finding from the chart is that three provinces that NightWatch included in the core in 2009 no longer qualify for inclusion. Coalition operations in these provinces appear responsible for this change. Overall, 16 of the 34 provinces account for up to 90 per cent of the fighting, virtually unchanged from the 2008 average.

Core Provinces of the Insurgency

Province

Total

2008

2008 Average Clashes

October 2008 Clashes

October 2009 Clashes

October

2010

Clashes

Ghazni

321

Attack every day

43

24

60

Helmand

391

Attack every day; 2 per day twice a month

45

65

132

Kabul

109

Attack every 3 days

8

22

8

Kandahar

316

Attack every day

24

100

87

Khost

198

Attack every other day

13

38

37

Konar

122

Attack every 3 days

11

71

33

Logar

129

Attack every 3 days

21

13

12

Nangarhar

76

Attack every 4 days

2

32

25

Paktika

115

Attack every 3 days

9

20

49

Paktia

160

Attack every 3 days

14

12

28

Zabol

124

Attack every 3 days

11

25

14

Farah

120

Attack every 3 days

13

6

16

Oruzgan

96

Attack every four days

14

8

7

Konduz

54

Attack once a week

9

22

22

Badghis

60

Attack once a week

7

12

12

Baghlan

26

Two attacks per month

3

6

19

Herat

97

Attack every three days

12

19

26

Takhar

9

Attack less than once a month

1

4

17

Maydan Wardak

97

Attack every three days

23

42

29

Total

2620

(89% of total clashes)

194 per month

311

(99% of total clashes)

533

(85% of total clashes)

633

(90% of total clashes)

The provinces that showed the sharpest deterioration in October 2010 are in the Pashtun heartland, namely, Ghazni, Helmand, Paktia, Paktika and Kandahar. The Taliban have been trying to capture Kandahar for two years and have not succeeded.

The Taliban remained unable to secure their heartland, but they remained strong enough to prevent Coalition forces from establishing security on behalf of the government.

Every province under stress and the districts within the provinces have unique story lines built around tribal feuds, warlord depredations, land ownership patterns and changes, religious zealotry and traditional practices, including smuggling and banditry. Cumulatively, these behaviors result in armed insurrection against the Kabul government and outside military forces. Separately, the result is that no single set of solutions works to stabilize them, either for a Taliban government or for the Coalition backed leadership.

In Helmand, the increase in NATO operations during the year is accountable for the increase in clashes. The Taliban succeeded in forcing NATO to retrench in Konar Province in 2009, but the Taliban have failed to exploit NATO setbacks in 2010. In Konduz Province in the North, they have not been strong enough to consolidate the new front they opened two years ago, except in Chahar Darah District, which is predominantly Pashtun.

The most important change since 2009 is the addition of Takhar and Baghlan Provinces to the list of core provinces. Both are northern provinces that have been the targets of Taliban expansion energies, but at substantial cost. Local militias with NATO help have fought back. Provincial authorities in Takhar reported that the Allied forces killed 108 Taliban in October 2010. That represents almost 30% of all Taliban deaths reported by open sources in October 2010.

Analysis of the Districts

The chart below lists the province names; total districts in the provinces; the number of districts that experienced clashes in the month and total clashes for each province in the month. The district data provide a more granular look at security conditions. Afghan districts approximate counties in the US. The color coding is the same as for the previous matrix chart.

The consistent theme that emerges from the year-to-year comparison is that the Taliban switched rather than fought much of the time, except in 33 of the districts. For example, the number of districts under stress in Herat Province in 2009 is the same as in 2010, but the actual districts have changed. This shifting pattern is true in most provinces and signifies a stable strategic equation in the insurgency between Taliban and allied capabilities. Neither side can destroy the other’‘s forces.

DISTRICTS                      CLASHES

Province

Total Districts

Oct 2008

Oct 2009

Oct 2010

Clashes

Oct 2008

Clashes

Oct 2009

Clashes

Oct 2010

Badakhshan

28

0

0

4

0

0

5

Badghis

7

4

3

4

7

12

12

Baghlan

15

2

4

7

3

6

19

Balkh

15

2

6

4

2

1

5

Bamiyan

7

1

2

0

1

2

0

Daykundi

9

1

0

0

1

0

0

Farah

11

6

2

7

13

6

16

Faryab

14

6

7

5

13

18

12

Ghazni

19

10

9

14

43

24

60

Ghor

10

1

5

5

2

6

9

Helmand

13

9

12

11

45

65

132

Herat

16

4

7

9

12

24

26

Jowzjan

11

0

3

2

0

6

4

Kabul

15

2

4

3

8

22

8

Kandahar

16

9

12

13

24

100

87

Kapisa

7

3

5

3

8

10

8

Khost

13

9

10

11

13

38

37

Konar

15

8

15

13

11

23

33

Konduz

7

3

7

5

9

22

22

Laghman

5

3

2

2

5

6

2

Logar

7

6

4

3

21

13

12

Nangarhar

22

1

4

11

2

32

25

Nimruz

5

3

3

5

5

6

12

Nurestan

8

1

1

0

2

6

0

Oruzgan

5

5

5

3

14

8

7

Paktia

11

6

8

10

14

12

28

Paktika

19

3

9

11

9

20

49

Panjshir

7

0

0

2

0

0

3

Parwan

10

0

4

2

0

7

5

Samangan

7

0

0

1

0

0

1

Sar - e-Pol

7

0

3

0

0

7

0

Takhar

17

1

3

6

1

4

17

Wardak

9

6

6

8

33

42

29

Zabol

11

6

8

4

11

25

14

As with the provinces, the districts display significant variation in the levels and intensity of fighting. Each has its own story, which means the Taliban have no effective command and control architecture or central planning. Compliance with central guidance is uneven and sustainability of a fighting cell is related to local support. The fight is highly decentralized.

Worst Districts

The provincial matrix above shows 19 provinces under stress, with 12 or more clashes in October 2010, but for three of them this number represented no change or an improvement. The core of the insurgency is 16 provinces. A closer examination of clashes in the districts adds nuance to the provincial assessment.

The core provinces contain 221 districts, more than half the total of 400 districts in Afghanistan, but the actual fighting is much more restricted. Only 35 of the 221 districts experienced a single attack or more per week. Even then, most of the attacks were IEDs or short duration exchanges of fire.

Open source reporting showed that only 2 districts experienced daily attacks or multiple attacks per day every day. These were Kandahar City in Kandahar Province and Nad e Ali District, Helmand Province. This is probably an understatement for some of the districts in Helmand Province, for example, but it is true to the open sourcing.

The next tier of districts under stress were those that open source reporting showed had an attack every four days or more frequently, that is, 7 - 15 attacks per month. There were 20 such districts in October 2010.

Badghis Province

Bala Murghab District -- in the north

Baghlan Province

Pol e Khomri District and City - in the north

Ghazni Province

Ghazni City - in the center on the Ring Road

Gelan District

Andar District

Helmand Province

Greshk District -- all in the south

Lashkargah District

Marjah District

Sangin District

Herat Province

Shindand - in the west

Khost Province

Sabari District - in the east

Konar Province

Manogay/Pech District - in the east

Konduz Province

Chahar Dara District, -- in the north

Logar Province

Pol e Alam City - in the center

Paktika Province

Yahya Khel District - in the east

Barmal District

Dila District

Sar Hawza District

Mayden Wardak Province

Saydabad District -- in the center

Nerkh District

The third tier is the pool of districts that experienced 4 to 6 attacks per month. They totaled 13. All other districts in Afghanistan - some 367 districts in all -- experienced none to three attacks a month. Thirty-one were attack free.

The district analysis reinforces the assessment that the fighting is a Pashtun fight, but not all Pashtuns support it. The fighting in most of the country is unsettling because it is unpredictable and annoying because it violently disrupts local normality.

Operational Highlights

The highlights were suicide attacks in Kandahar City, the attempt to overrun Khogyani District in Ghazni Province, and the first joint US-Afghan-Russian counter-narcotics raid in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province.

On 5 October the Taliban detonated multiple explosives and car bombs in Kandahar City, killing 7 and wounding 25 civilians. During the month they assassinated or kidnapped city and district officials in Kandahar, apparently as a riposte to the NATO press reports about the Kandahar offensive. At least in Kandahar City (not the same as Kandahar Province) the Taliban sustained an offensive.

In Ghazni Province, the Taliban succeeded in capturing and burning the district administration buildings in Khogyani District for a day on 30 October, and tried to make a propaganda coup of it. Coalition forces recaptured it the next day.

The joint counter-drug raid on 30 October was a highlight because it was the first operation by Russian soldiers in Afghanistan since the Soviet occupation ended in 1989. It sparked demonstrations in Jalalabad for a time and some official complaints that dissipated quickly.

Casualty Ratios

Ratios for overall casualties and for fatalities provide insight into the lethality of the clashes and the value of modern western military technology.

In October 2010, Taliban once again husbanded manpower in sustaining an elevated level of fighting. Taliban lost 657 men killed, wounded or captured. Included in the total were 174 detainees, most of whom usually got released after questioning. Coalition forces sustained 354 killed, wounded or captured.

Death ratios. In October, the number of Taliban reported killed was 398. Total fatalities in Allied forces -- meaning NATO, ISAF, the Afghan National Army, National Police and local militias -- were 176. In October 2009 they were 142. In October 2008 they lost 97 men killed. Local militias were not formed in those years

(Note: Accurate casualty data for non-NATO fighters is notoriously difficult to derive from the public media. The Taliban and Afghan government exaggerate their achievements, and understate their own losses. Trends in the levels of clashes and casualties should and do correspond in the data.)

The Kill Ratio in October 2010 was about 2 Taliban dead for every Coalition soldier or militiaman killed, or 2:1. This means that Allied soldiers and militias killed 2 anti-government fighters for every NATO and government death in combat. IEDs remain the largest source of Coalition deaths and NATO air attacks are the largest source of Taliban deaths.

For the purpose of comparison, the October 2009 ratio was 2:1 and the October 2008 ratio was 11:1 or eleven Taliban killed for every Coalition soldier who died. The obvious conclusion is that the 2010 surge in US troops has not resulted in more Taliban deaths than before, just more fighting.

The Taliban will win a war of attrition in that manpower is not a limitation. Their most significant vulnerability is the supply line from Pakistan. No supplies are manufactured in Afghanistan, for either side, but the Taliban never seem to lack for ammunition or explosives for very long.

The chart below enables a year-to-year comparison of the killed and wounded.

Casualties

Force

2008

Total KIA

2008

Per month

Oct 2008

KIA

Oct 2009

KIA

Oct 2010

KIA

Oct 2008

WIA

Oct

2009

WIA

Oct 2010

WIA

Taliban

6390

533

1038*

304

398

92

84

85

NATO

289

24

19

27

62

17

121

69

Afghan Army

165

14

30

34

11

28

42

12

Afghan Police

873

73

48

41

67

55

82

67

Local militiamen

36

18

Civilians

2408

201

233

105

124

139

159

128

* October 2008 is the single monthly high for Taliban KIA.

The noteworthy points are the low level of civilian casualties compared to 2008 and the low number of Afghan security force casualties. Losses are one measure of who is doing the most fighting. The numbers show the western forces still do most of the fighting, compared to the past two years. That reverts to the pattern of 2007 and earlier.

Opposing Forces

Country

Forces of Order

Opposition

Forces of Order : Taliban ratio

Status

Afghanistan

395,070 total *

-145,537 ISAF/NATO

-134,028 Afghan Army

-115,505 Afghan Police

Unknown (possibly 25,000 part time fighters**.)

16:1 (Coalition forces cannot defeat the Taliban with this force ratio. Taliban and other anti-government forces

also cannot conquer Kabul with this ratio.)

Taliban can hold some terrain against NATO and Afghan ground forces without air support; Allies cannot prevent Taliban attacks and expansion into Pashtun areas.

ISAF/NATO remains essential for government survival.

* The source for Coalition numbers is the September 2010 Defense Department bi-annual report to Congress.

** Afghanistan is much less violent than Iraq was at the height of the Sunni Arab insurgency. Iraq experienced about 300 clashes per day. The open source data shows Afghanistan averages fewer than 25 clashes a day.

Closing Observations

Based on the assessment of fighting at the district-level, NightWatch continues to assess that the Taliban movement is co-extensive with Pashtun settlement patterns. Taliban have failed to expand their appeal beyond their core ethnic group. The salient feature of a year-on-year comparison is how little the ethnic-geography of the combat zones has changed.

At current force levels backed by air power, the security situation should be containable, but not permanently improvable. The force ratios are not sufficient to achieve permanent results by the Coalition forces, especially when factoring in the low level of capabilities of Afghan government forces. There are not enough dependable forces to enforce the writ of the Kabul government, whether it is corrupt or as clean as a hound’‘s tooth.

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