Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 01, 2012

ISAF Misreports Losses, DoD Fudges Afghan Security Force Progress

To prevent criticism of its operation in Afghanistan the western ISAF military is eager to one side suppress negative news and on the other to put a false gloss on figures that demonstrate alleged progress. Here are examples for each category. First the minor issue.

The Associated Press just found that ISAF underreported the numbers of green on blue incidents in which members of Afghan security forces attack ISAF troops. Only those incidents in which ISAF troops died and the number of those died were reported. If additional people were wounded in such an incident those numbers were not disclosed. Incidents in which no ISAF troops died but some were only wounded or which resulted in no casualties were not reported at all:

Jamie Graybeal, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, disclosed Monday in response to repeated AP requests that in addition to 10 fatal insider attacks so far this year, there have been two others that resulted in no deaths or injuries, plus one attack that resulted in wounded, for a total of 13 attacks. The three non-fatal attacks had not previously been reported.

Graybeal also disclosed that in most of the 10 fatal attacks a number of other ISAF troops were wounded.

Thirteen attacks in four month, one in every ten days, seems remarkable to me and consistent with an opposing force strategy. But even in the quoted AP report ISAF still continues to call each attack an "isolated incident".

Now onto a more serious case. Every six month the U.S. Department of Defense has to deliver a Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. This so called 1230 congressional demanded report gives numbers on Afghan security forces strengths and capabilities.

A while ago Dan in Kabul pointed out that there is some fudging going on with the reported capabilities of Afghan forces. In the April 2011 report (pdf) the Executive Summary said (pg 3):

By the end of the reporting period, 75 percent of ANP units in key terrain districts were rated as either “Effective with Advisors” or “Effective with Assistance,” although none were yet rated as independent.

It explained how units are rated (pg 37):

"Independent" denotes a unit that is capable of the full spectrum of its missions without assistance from Coalition Forces. “Effective with Advisors” means that the partnered coalition unit does not exceed a limited guidance role. Units that are “Effective with Assistance” are those that are capable of executing operations and providing regional security with varied partnered unit assistance. ...

In the October 2011 report (pdf) the Executive Summary notes (pg 4):

Force growth and professionalization efforts are translating into a more capable and effective ANSF. ANA effectiveness improved, as the number of units rated “Effective with Assistance” or better rose from 52 percent of units in September 2010 to 72 percent of units in September 2011.

Here the fudging is in setting the comparison date. The number of units rated “Effective with Assistance” or better in the April 2011 report was 73.7% and in the Executive Summary of that report boosted as 75%. That number decreased to 72.0 % in the October 2011 report. By comparing the September 2011 number with the September 2010 number and thereby skipping the latest report of April 2011 the October 2011 assessment showed progress where none was made.

There was also, as Dan pointed out, some fudging in that those units that were rated higher were almost all headquarter units. The number of actual fighting battalions, or kandaks, that were rated "Effective with Assistance" or better actually decreased from 116 in April 2011 to 115 in October 2011.

But not everything was bad. By October 2011 one of those kandaks had achieved the highest status of "Independent" while no unit had achieved that in April 2011. That was until one read further down (pg 42):

Prior to the spring campaign, IJC reviewed the definition of an Independent unit and concluded that the definition was too restrictive and would be difficult for any ANSF element to attain. As a result, IJC rewrote the definition of an Independent unit to reflect the reality that most ANSF force enablers will likely require long-term coalition assistance.

Fast forward to the just published April 2012 report (pdf). There the Executive Summary boosts (pg 2):

As of September 2011, no ANP unit, and only one ANA kandak had been rated as “Independent with Advisors.” As of the end of the current reporting period, 13 ANA kandaks and 39 ANP units had achieved this rating. These ratings are regularly substantiated by the field performance of the ANSF, which continues to exceed expectations.

That sounds like great sudden progress. How come?

The secret sauce for this progress can be found in a paragraph deeper into the report (pg 37):

Prior to January 31, 2012, the Validation Transition Team (VTT) was tasked by IJC with validating any unit that received a CUAT rating of “Independent with Advisors” by the Regional Commands. The IJC procedure was to not report a unit assessed by the RCs as “Independent with Advisors” until the VTT could validate the rating. Instead, units would remain rated at the “Effective with Advisors” level until the validation was complete. However, after January 31, 2012, the requirement for outside validation for newly reported “Independent with Advisors” units was eliminated, which has resulted in the recent increase in “Independent with Advisors” units. The new process places greater emphasis on the ratings from the units partnered with the ANSF, who have first-hand knowledge of the unit’s performance. In the future, there will continue to be increases in the number of independent units, although this is expected to be at a more gradual rate.

Before February 2012 the real quality of the "independent" ANA troops was evaluated by an special independent evaluation unit. Now the quality of ANA troops is evaluated by those U.S. units that directly partner with these troops.

Those units and their commanders do of course have a huge incentive to report "success" of their tour in Afghanistan. The evaluation of their unit and their commander's chance for promotion depend on it. They therefore upgrade the ANA unit they partner with no matter what it real progress is.

In April 2011 their were zero Afghan security force units capable of independent action. In April 2012 there are still zero Afghan force units capable of real independent action. But the number of units that were reported as "independent" increased from zero to one to fifty two because first the definition of "independent" was changed and then because the evaluation was turned over from an independent evaluation entity to those entities that have direct self interest in reporting such progress.

Anyone who only reads the Executive Summaries of those 1230 reports will see great progress in developing Afghan security forces while a detailed reading shows that none has been made. Likewise anyone who believes ISAF reports about the number of security incidents and the number of casualties without further questioning is in for bad surprises.

One again has to ask how can the sovereign of the countries that send troops to Afghanistan, the people of these countries, make informed decisions about the deployments there when the military commanders, without any challenge and consequences, consistently misreport and misrepresent the real situation there?

Posted by b on May 1, 2012 at 17:25 UTC | Permalink


I've been using the ISAF website to look at Casaulties for awhile now. Seems the fighting season this year is producing 2 NATO deaths per day. An example is to take last weeks figures from Sunday April 22nd- Sunday April 29th.

Sunday April 22nd: Zero Deaths.
Monday April 23rd: 3 Deaths.
Tuesday April 24th: 1 Death.
Wednesday April 25th: 2 Deaths.
Thursday April 26th: 4 Deaths (1 was an Afghan special forces soldier killing an American + local translator) 3 others were IED in Eastern Afghanistan.
Friday April 27th: 1 Death.
Saturday April 28th: 2 Deaths.
Sunday April 29th: 1 Death.


So all in all last week saw 14 NATO deaths in 7 Days. Of course this doesn't include Afghan soldiers, or special forces or even wounded NATO troops. Kept track of the casualty reports last year during fighting season as well and generally the trend was around 7-10 dead per week, unless it was a week with a high single toll like the helicopter crash that killed 32.

Finally on the fudging of the training of Afghan soldiers, you have to bear in mind that even if NATO trains them to be fully combat effective it won't make much differance in a year or two when all these fully trained fighters defect to the Taliban after the US withdrawal from combat. You can train a man to shoot but whats to say he won't then turn that gun on you?

Posted by: Colm O' Toole | May 1 2012 17:53 utc | 1

It seems unlike AP to question the spokesman. Very odd.

Posted by: dh | May 1 2012 18:35 utc | 2

My thanks to 'b' and to Colm for the info.

I happen to know how many deaths per day are being suffered in Syria by the Syrian security forces as reported by SANA (the official Syrian government source). Assuming this blog's protocols wouldn't take this to be too off-topic, here's the average number of killed Syrian army and police men buried per day, averaged each month for the last six months:
November: 8 per day
December: 10 per day
January: 9.5 per day
February: 13 per day
March: 9.5 per day
April: 10.5 per day
First 15 days of April: 11 per day
Last 15 days of April: 10 per day

Posted by: Parviziyi | May 1 2012 19:03 utc | 3

A few hours ago, I heard on NPR news a report that the Afghan media had been reporting Obama's imminent arrival in their country hours before he arrived. They had apparently been so informed by Afghan government sources. That sounds like a serious security lapse to me.

I wonder if some malcontent in the Secret Service, offended at the purge in that agency, might have seen to it that that news was leaked.

NPR has stopped reporting this news, by the way. I guess the word went out to eliminate that piece of news.

Posted by: lysias | May 1 2012 23:26 utc | 4

Guys, how do you estimate an amount of people fighting with ISAF?

Posted by: Kristin | May 1 2012 23:31 utc | 5

Intriguing that we think we need to "train" the Afghanis how to fight. They kicked Russia's ass, and have managed to spend ten years killing our guys with no let-up or quarter given. Seems to me they could teach US a few things about puttin' up a hellofa fight against superior numbers and weaponry.

Posted by: PissedOffAmerican | May 2 2012 4:05 utc | 6

the twitter feed of the Kabul embassy today is real life satire

U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

The situation is uncertain. There are media reports that many roads are closed in Kabul. 2/3

2h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

Emergency Message to American Citizens: There is an ongoing attack on Jalalabad Road in Kabul today, May 2, 2012. 1/3

2h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

Due to security concerns, all appointments at the Embassy’s Consular Section are cancelled for Wednesday May 2.

2h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

@Theresa_Cook Please DM me an email address.

2h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

Putting up a new travel advisory now: "Reports of an ongoing attack on Jalalabad road. We urge all U.S. citizens to shelter in place."

4h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

Duck and cover here at the embassy. Not a drill - avoid the area.

9h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

Karzai emphasized partnership w/US, gratitude for US efforts; Obama stressed shared sacrifice and the hope for a more peaceful future.

9h U.S. Embassy Kabul U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul

The Strategic Partnership Signing Ceremony has concluded. Remarks from Presidents Karzai and Obama were encouraging.

Posted by: somebody | May 2 2012 5:58 utc | 7

"Duck and cover", those ragtags are no chickens!!

duck 2 |dək|
1 [ no obj. ] lower the head or the body quickly to avoid a blow or so as not to be seen: spectators ducked for cover | she ducked into the doorway to get out of the line of fire | [ with obj. ] : he ducked his head and entered.
• (duck out) depart quickly: I thought I saw you duck out.
• [ with obj. ] avoid (a blow) by moving down quickly: he ducked a punch from an angry first baseman.
• [ with obj. ] informal evade or avoid (an unwelcome duty or undertaking): a responsibility that a less courageous man might well have ducked | [ no obj. ] : I was engaged twice and ducked out both times.

thanks for the morning dose of comedy, somebody!/usembassykabul

Posted by: citizen x | May 2 2012 11:56 utc | 8

by the way the embassy is next to ISAF headquarters ...,69.193375&sspn=0.014725,0.01929&hq=embassy+of+usa&hnear=Kabul,+Afghanistan&t=m&z=15

Posted by: somebody | May 2 2012 12:51 utc | 9

New agreement signed by Obama to ensure the continued lies about all things in Afghanistan:

Posted by: ben | May 2 2012 14:06 utc | 10

Cordesman is somewhat pissed. He has criticized the (non-)strategy in Afghanistan and especially the fudging of numbers for years. Now he is arguing for cut and run.

Time to Focus on "Afghan Good Enough"

Every day seems to widen the gap between the goals the United States is seeking to achieve in Afghanistan and its ability to achieve them. Even apparent progress, like the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, seems more a warning on the inability to define specific goals, milestones, and resources—coupled with growing restraints on U.S. military action—than an accomplishment.
The question is what, if anything, can now be done that might offer many, if not most, ordinary Afghans some realistic hope of security and stability through the withdrawal of most combat forces and beyond. The answers are not pleasant, or anywhere near as reassuring as the statements coming out of the United States and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), but they may offer a better solution than pretense and impossible goals.

Posted by: b | May 2 2012 14:17 utc | 11

I remember a time when President Bush would make trips and sign bullshit like this and more than a few US Democrats and their pundits would make a mockery out of him for it.

Posted by: Eureka Springs | May 2 2012 14:19 utc | 12

The main point is Obama had to lie and hide for a trip to a foreign country 10 years after our occupation because our security is that insecure. If that's not embarrassing enough to sign the agreement somewhere else, I don't know what is.

The people who surround Obama think things are cool when they're not. This slip-in, slip-out trip sends a very negative message about America around the world. Do they not see that?

Posted by: Cynthia | May 2 2012 16:49 utc | 13

Seems to me they could teach US a few things about puttin' up a hellofa fight against superior numbers and weaponry.

and maybe even teach the u.s. brass how to cultivate a tradition of dancing boys, or bacha bazi. I wonder if the afghan warlord thugs learned it many moon of alabamas ago from christian missionary priests? the nazi party in its early years had a significant representation of brutal homosexuals who had a penchant for young boys, as well. hmmm, there seems to be a pattern emerging.

Posted by: wenis | May 2 2012 17:21 utc | 14


The American populace has been fed a steady diet of fear just like the German population under Hitler. The sequence of events in the USA mirror Nazi Germany from Homeland Security to the NDAA. As an American I always wondered how the German people could have been so evil, violent, and just plain wrong about everything. But after living in their shoes for a while, I no longer wonder how this happened.

War-mongering and fear abound. People see nothing wrong with "kill 'em all" type comments. And sadly they will likely reject the only solution being offered them other than more of the same. America, the indestructable, is destroying itself with fear and over-reaction. It is now the land of freedom lost and home of the cowardly.

Posted by: Cynthia | May 2 2012 17:56 utc | 15

@ PissedOffAmerican | May 2, 2012 12:05:05 AM @ 6
Intriguing that we think we need to "train" the Afghanis how to fight.

There are lots of things the Yankees could train the Afghans to do.
1. Lose, and hope no-one notices.
2. Bite off more than they can chew.
3. Mistake a hard target for a soft one.
4. Smile and pretend that having your ass handed to you is a quirky variation on "winning".

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Afghans have always been too dumb to realise their enemy was/is smarter than themselves.
They're impossible to educate...

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | May 3 2012 17:02 utc | 16

Btw, this is a terrific piece of analysis, b.
I genuinely admire your tenacity, patience and diligence in wading through so much puerile, pseudo-military claptrap to extract the few facts concealed therein.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | May 4 2012 17:56 utc | 17

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