The fourth six-monthly report on Progess Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan, submitted by the Pentagon to Congress this month, notes that progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance and development. It says signs of progress on security are evident in areas such as Central Helmand, but that governance and development lag behind these gains. Overall, 45 per cent of all violence and two-thirds of all IED attacks take place in the south of the country.
The report highlights the progress in the town of Marjah, which until the offensive launched during the summer was an insurgent command-and-control centre, a base for IED construction and a nexus for the narcotics industry. "Now the city is controlled by the Afghan Government", says the report. "Signs of progress in Marjah include voter registration, increased activity in local marketplaces and the reopening of schools that were closed for several years."
However, this rosy picture is somewhat contradicted by figures in the main body of the report. For example, Afghans' positive perceptions of security have declined since earlier this year, with the number of Afghans rating their security sitation as "bad" now the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008. The number of kinetic events, which included direct fire and IED attacks, has increased nearly 55 per cent over the previous quarter and 65 per cent compared to the third quarter of 2009. This rise, says the report, is due in part to the increase in Coalition forces and the increased tempo of operations. The large growth in direct fire attacks may be a result of a shortage of explosives for IEDs, a phenomenon noticed elsewhere.
IED attacks make up about a third of all attacks, but account for nearly 60 per cent of coalition and half of Afghan Security Force casualties.
The report states that growth in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has been among Afghanistan's "most promising areas of progress", although improving the quality of the force "remains a serious challenge" and a potential shortage of trainers next year may threaten recent gains. The main problems are shortfalls of officers and NCOs, low literacy rates and lack of technical expertise. And while targets for recruiting soldiers were met ahead of schedule, recruiting police officers and keeping them continues to be a problem