RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Ackerman reports: "One of the major metrics for the decade-long Afghanistan war is seriously flawed. Rather than fix the problem, the U.S.-NATO military command in Kabul has decided that you simply shouldn't see the data."

U.S. and Afghan forces discuss wartime detention operations at Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan. (photo: International Security Assistance Force/Flickr) Please link credit to
U.S. and Afghan forces discuss wartime detention operations at Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan. (photo: International Security Assistance Force/Flickr) Please link credit to

Military Decides to Withhold Key Data on Afghanistan War

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired Magazine

06 March 13


ne of the major metrics for the decade-long Afghanistan war is seriously flawed. Rather than fix the problem, the U.S.-NATO military command in Kabul has decided that you simply shouldn't see the data.

Late last month, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) conceded that it misreported the 2012 statistics on Taliban attacks. Its explanation was that a data-entry error had discounted attacks reported by Afghan forces - so much so that a statistically insignificant change in the level of so-called "enemy initiated attacks" became a 7 percent decline from 2011 levels.

ISAF's response, the Associated Press recounts, is to end public reporting on enemy-initiated attacks. It'll still record attack levels, according to spokesman Jamie Graybeal, but it won't publish any of the data it collects - all because it's losing confidence in the veracity of its information. As Afghan forces take increasing control of the war, ISAF will cede control of overseeing the attack data collection. "We have determined that our databases will become increasingly inaccurate in reflecting the entirety of enemy initiated attacks," Graybeal told the Associated Press' Bob Burns, who broke the story.

This means ISAF is denying you a major metric for assessing the durability and the lethality of the insurgency, as well as, by inference, its freedom of movement. When U.S. officials in the future claim that they're making progress, you will not be able to access the data underlying their claims. Indeed, if ISAF has lost confidence in its "increasingly inaccurate" attack data, then those generals themselves will have little basis for their own assessments. And all this data vanishes at the awfully convenient moment when the U.S. is increasingly handing over the majority of the fighting to a dubiously capable Afghan force.

Graybeal told Burns that a measurement ISAF used to tout as significant actually isn't that significant. "At a time when more than 80 percent of the [attacks] are happening in areas where less than 20 percent of Afghans live, this single facet of the campaign is not particularly accurate in describing the complete effect of the insurgency's violence on the people of Afghanistan," Graybeal argued. But that assumes a confidence in the overall attack reporting data that ISAF itself is saying it lacks, and will increasingly lack as time goes on. As more of those sparsely-populated areas come under the control of Afghan forces, how will ISAF be confident in the attack data from those regions?

There are ways of assessing the Afghanistan war's vectors that do not rely on ISAF attack reporting. One is to look at civilian casualties, independently reported by the United Nations team on the ground. The most recent data on civilian deaths and injuries found that the Taliban is responsible for the vast amount of such violence, and that for the first time since 2007, those numbers have declined. Another is to look at the extent of territory that U.S. forces hand over to their Afghan proteges, and how those Afghan soldiers and police hold the ground they're entrusted with. But those are poor proxies for understanding the Taliban's pattern, frequency and intensity of attack, none of which is robustly captured in either metric.

Abandoning the attack data represents a vote of no confidence in the Afghan forces that the U.S. is spending billions annually to finance. ISAF doesn't trust the Afghans to represent faithfully when they come under attack, despite entrusting them with securing Afghanistan. Even if it's the case that the Afghan National Security Forces, many of whom are illiterate, keep poor records, ISAF has the option of intensifying its training on data entry; making its reporting system easier for Afghans to use; or changing its procedures for auditing the Afghan security apparatus it plans to sponsor for years to come.

Perhaps ISAF will reverse its call. Until then, U.S. commanders are positioning themselves to misunderstand the war they're waging. And the American public and the Congress will have even less basis for assessing the progress of the longest war in their history. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+18 # jmac9 2013-03-06 21:01
A point of reference: actually the longest war in USA history is the fraudulent and failed 'war on drugs'. Which just since criminal Nixon started it has cost over a Trillion dollars and made the USA prison nation #1 with 1 in 100 Americans in jail- 60% of whom are drug related. And the excuse of the 'drug war' started the shredding your Constitution and Bill of Rights -
which has been finished off by the fraud of the 'war on terror'.

That said: Vietnam was filled with lies both during and afterward, Iraq invasion was based upon Bush-Cheney lies, Reagan lied about his cocaine trafficking deal called 'Iran-Contra'- America lies about the brutality of Israel terrorizing the Islamic Palestinians -
Now America wants to add another layer of lies about the stupidity of Afghanistan.

And America puts Bradley Manning in prison and Julian Assange in hiding for daring to tell some of the truth to you - the taxpayers who are funding this fiasco.
+3 # HowardMH 2013-03-07 10:18
With all these lies and things in Afghanistan labeled Secret so they don’t have to tell the people the real truth and they are counting on the millions of idiots and imbeciles in the US not to notice and they don’t! By the time the morons figure out just how bad the government has been BSing them for the last 12 years it will be too late to do anything. The War machine is alive and well and laughing all the way to the bank every month while dedicated very naive Americans are being maimed and killed so the fat cats can make a few more millions. Bradley Manning did his damndest to tell everyone what was going on and you see the reward he got for that.
+10 # RMDC 2013-03-07 05:56
This is why we need Bradley Manning and Wikileaks. Militaries are criminal conspiracies. Of course they love secrecy. If the people of the world really knew all they did and planned to do, militaries might some day cease to exist. All military leaders know this and fear it more than anything.
+1 # HowardMH 2013-03-07 10:19
Until there are two hundred thousand (OK I will concede there are not that many that even understand what is going on in Washington DC, much less get pissed off about it so lets say 5 thousand) really, really pissed off people on Capital Hill (all at the same time – with base ball bats, or 2 x 2s) raising some serious hell against the Lunatics, absolutely nothing is ever, ever going to happen to these totally bought and paid for by the richest 50 people in the world that are becoming more and more powerful with each passing rigged election thanks to the stupid people.

How much success have you had with the TOTALLY NON VIOLENT protests over the last few years?
+1 # NanFan 2013-03-07 10:26
Cost Rica is the only sane country in the World -- they have no military! No taxpayer money is wasted on any military, and they never go to war. Therefore, they have a sound economy.


+9 # Michael Lee Bugg 2013-03-07 06:28
The sad fact is that we should have been in and OUT of Afghanistsn in 2002! Indeed, we turned our backs on Afghanistan after Usama and the Mujhadeen kicked the Russians out for us back in the late 80s, but there are 38 million people in Afghanistan and only about 100,000 or less Taliban. If the 37,900,000 cannot control 100,000, it is because they don't want to control the Taliban! Why should our soldiers continue to die doing what the Afghan people won't do for themselves?! In addition, the money we have wasted there should have been used putting Americans back to work rebuilding our country!
+5 # NanFan 2013-03-07 10:31
The bigger, and most unfortunate, issue of why we have stayed in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the people or the Taliban: there is an oil pipeline to run through an area of Afghanistan, and the Americans are there to militarily defend that OIL!'s about the money and the oil, not the people or democracy, either in America or Afghanistan.

+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-03-07 09:01
Easy: as a good rule, if you can’t see the bill, you don’t pay it.
+2 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-03-07 12:55
Time to end this misguided war.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.