What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, May 2, 2008

So what's really up in RC-East's area?

Lately there has been much talk about how there are improvements in eastern Afghanistan. Back in January, in a paper of the European Council for Foreign Relations, Daniel Korski argued that European troops should be moved to ISAF Regional Command-East's area, where conditions improved, to free up U.S. troops there for the fighting in the south. I expressed some skepticism at the time, saying that even if hard data could show improvements, it might have been because of developments in Pakistan diverting fighting to the other side of the border, at least temporarily, and because of the usual winter lull in the fighting. Then Ann Marlowe wrote an article mentioning some data about how incidents have become more concentrated in RC-East's territory, into fewer districts. And by the time the Bucharest Summit came, France decided it would send a battalion-size unit to the east of Afghanistan, rather than to Kandahar province. The more secure conditions played a part in this decision (even with Sarkozy's taking up a position closer to the U.S., the French left's resistance has to be factored into any such decision). The French move is to make it possible for American units to redeploy to Kandahar, effectively instead of the French.
Meanwhile, I heard some more specific info from Kip even, from over at Abu Muqawama. He said in a post that it's in particular the so-called Loya Paktia area, in Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces, that improvements are seen.
For a reminder, here's the data Ann Marlowe offered:

" American estimates for the 14 provinces and 158 districts of Regional Command East show that 58 percent of the kinetic activity there last year (direct fire, indirect fire and detonations of improvised explosive devices) occurred in three provinces (Konar, Paktika and Ghazni). Fifty-two percent occurred in 12 of the 158 districts, and about 75 percent took place in 30 of the districts.
We lost 83 soldiers plus two military civilians to hostile causes in 2007, when 4,000 to 27,000 personnel were in country. In 2006, 98 died. The decrease in deaths in action last year is even more significant when you consider the danger our troops were exposed to. American strategy has evolved from concentrating forces in large forward operating bases to building up provincial reconstruction teams in province capitals to establishing combat outposts in district centers (county seats) this past year.
In 2007, the Army's counterinsurgency strategy of stationing platoons in district centers and delivering quick infrastructure aid started to produce visible results for ordinary Afghans in the east. Not all areas in the Pashtun belt are equal -- Khost, for instance, is thriving, while Ghazni is still very poor -- but security is improving. When Schweitzer took command early last year, 20 of the 85 districts were "green," or on the side of the Afghan government. By year-end, 58 were classified as "green." "

Then comes the hard part. Every analyst ranks sources in terms of general credibility and reliability. The source of the information above is the U.S. military. Kip for his part is a veteran of Afghanistan. I rank these sources high.

"Margaret Warner interviewed me along with the Washington Post's David Ignatius, back from a one-week tour of Afghanistan escorted by the U.S. embassy and military. He claims to have reported only what he saw with his own eyes, but he does not understand even what he saw with his own eyes very well.

For instance, he claims that thanks to the wonderful counter-insurgency work of the U.S. in Afghanistan's Regional Command/East, the area is more secure. No doubt his hosts took him to the most secure areas. Data I posted from an independent source show that insurgent attacks in the first quarter of 2008 in the Eastern Region were up 30 percent over last year, only slightly less than the nationwide increase of 38 percent."

Contradicting information from reliable sources. A nightmare!
One possibility is that there's no contradiction of course.
1) It may be just that Barnett Rubin is talking about security incidents in general, while more is not necessarily worse - more incidents may be of the less severe type.
2) It may be that talking generally about RC-E's area makes one lose sight of actual improvements in Loya Paktia and some other places.
The best would be to have quarterly data for comparison, by "type of AGE-initiated security incident" (AGE = Anti-Government Element) as well as to have the breakdown by province.
Anyway, here's a graph Dr Rubin has published at his site (source). Data by region for a comparison of the first quarter of 2007 and 2008. In the "Eastern Region" - not the same as RC-East's area! - there's deterioration: 241 incidents after 186 in 2007's first quarter.


Joshua Foust said...

Actually, both Kip and Rubin are right. There has been a marked improvement in Paktika, Paktya, and Khost. But Wardak, Logar, Kunar, Nuristan, and Laghman have all seen increases in "security incidents."

The comment about severity is also key. Incidents in Kunar tend to be far worse than in Logar, as an example. Though that isn't a hard and fast rule by any stretch.

It's also noteworthy that Rubin was directly attacking credible journalists going on government-managed week-long tourist trips, then reporting what they see as fact. I would rank Kip and Rubin's granularity far above Marlowe's simplism.

Also we need to stop blogging about the same things at the same times :-)

Péter MARTON said...

Only for the record - I happened to post this very early on May 2, quite likely before you posted on what Rubin said to Ignatius' observations-under-observation. I was a couple of time zones nearer to RC-East at the time.
I think it's alright if we - you, me, as well as others - react to the same things. It shows with emphasis that those are actually important issues. I don't mind that at all.
Otherwise I totally agree with your thoughts at Registan, which I've just had the time to read, having been away from home for a while: the emerging narrative pushed around is that "RC-East is on the right track, thanks to U.S. troops + now the Europeans (uh, Canadians as well, of course) need U.S. troops' help even in the south."
I don't appreciate this narrative, even while there's an element of truth in it.
But I wanted to politely remark that Barnett Rubin's passionate response didn't leave room to appreciating even the element of truth in that narrative, refuting, as it was, the claims of improvement generally over the RC-East.