Several negative tendencies can be seen when analyzing the outcome of last year’s military campaign in Afghanistan. For one, there was a fall in the loss of the armed opposition that had grown in the previous years.
The Afghan Interior Ministry reported that 3,328 militants were killed and 3,480 were arrested in 2012. The death toll is almost the same as the past year, but the number of arrests was record low compared to 4,600 people in 2009 and 5,000 in 2010-2011. In short, the loss of militants reduced by more than 20%. This is not the result of lowering military activity because the number of militant attacks was reduced only by 7% in the past year.
A fall in the number of arrests can be explained by the fact that carrying out of night raids that helped to make a large number of arrests were handed over from the special task force of the ISAF to the Afghan servicemen who prefer to kill militants rather than to arrest them. This is a result of poor training of Afghan soldiers, who have no ability to detain dangerous enemies, as well as toughening of the civil war. Another reason is that soldiers refuse to detain terrorists because they might escape from prison by bribing officials, which is quite common in Afghanistan.
Somehow this logic is understandable. Last year, about 1,200, who were arrested earlier due to their involvement in illegal armed groups, were released. Among them were those who were accidentally arrested, released in view of the closing of prisons controlled by the ISAF, acquitted and convicted militants. Clearly, only some of them were Taliban militants, who are ready to take part in terrorist activity after their release. The fall in the number of prisoners in the Afghan war is really not crucial, but no one can exclude the return of the released prisoners to the battlefield.
At the same time, 1,065 soldiers of the Afghan army were killed in 2012, while in the previous year the death toll was 635. According to preliminary reports, the Interior Ministry’s loss significantly grew. Although there was a fall in the ISAF’s death toll compared to 2011 (from 566 to 402), above mentioned developments can be considered as a success of the armed opposition.
Moreover, several positive tendencies disappeared last year. Sociological studies show that a fall in the Afghan’s sympathy for the armed opposition in the past years has ceased. The number of respondents who expressed their sympathy for militants even grew from 28% to 30%. The sympathy for militants among Pashtun population grew from 37% to 39%.
The situation in Afghanistan is worsening due to issues linked to the handing over of responsibilities from foreign forces to the Afghan army. At present, about 80% of operations carried out in Afghanistan are led by Afghan servicemen but the majority of military and police units enjoy the support of the ISAF. The activities of Afghan units are coordinated by either group of advisers working at the headquarters or foreign contingents. Reports say that the handing over of responsibility in several provinces, including Bamyan, is linked to a large number of security problems. The Afghan authorities complain of lack of people and poor equipment and training. All this disturbs maintaining law and order appropriately in the region.
In fact, one must not ignore several positive tendencies marked in 2012. The death toll and the number of people injured among civilians were 15% less in the first six months compared to the same period of 2011 because the number of suicide bombings and roadside explosions registered by the UN mission was reduced.
It seems that civilians have started suffering less from the clashes between those who are involved in the Afghan conflict. An opinion poll conducted by the Asia Foundation in the middle of 2012 shows that there was no significant growth in the sentiment of fear over security problems in the majority of provinces. Meanwhile, the sentiment of fear significantly fell in northeast and southwest.
Perhaps, this is linked to the fact that 80% of clashes took place in thinly populated regions where about 20% of Afghan people live. About 50% of attacks were carried out in districts where population is 20%. It’s unclear that this is deliberately chosen tactics by militants or their units have been pressed to the outskirts.
However, despite of these positive trends, an improvement in the position of the armed opposition is a cause for worry. If the ISAF and the Afghan authorities fail to improve the effectiveness of anti-terrorist operations in the near future, by 2014, the Taliban will remain a dangerous enemy of Kabul. This means that period of time after the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will be a tougher test of strength for the Afghan authorities than expected.