Is Afghanistan more or less violent this year than in 2010?
This is a crucial question in assessing progress in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign. Counterinsurgency operations often grow more violent when they intensify — since troops and insurgents come into more frequent contact — so it might not be surprising if 2011 were the most violent.
Yet, a decade into the conflict — and three years into the surge strategy devised by President Barack Obama, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and former Gen. Stanley McChrystal — it would be discouraging if the fighting were getting worse, whatever the reason. This would point to a potent and resilient insurgency.
So which is it?
In fact, key databases on the war differ fundamentally on this question. The UN mission in Afghanistan, headed by the extremely able Steffan de Mistura, sees a worsening trend. Its database shows that violent incidents are up 40 percent this year, relative to last. (Counting through the end of the summer.)
It also estimates that civilian fatalities have again climbed, even as it reports that NATO-led forces continue to reduce the number of casualties they cause inadvertently — in other words, insurgents are responsible for the higher civilian fatalities.