Afghan vi­o­lence up this win­ter

Lack of snow al­lows Tal­iban more mo­bil­ity, U.S. of­fi­cial says

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JOSHUA PART­LOW part­lowj@wash­

kabul — The first snow of the win­ter that fell in Kabul last week was a wel­come dust­ing for the war plan­ners at NATO head­quar­ters.

The level of vi­o­lence across the coun­try has so far been higher than in pre­vi­ous win­ters, a phe­nom­e­non U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials at­tribute at least in part to un­sea­son­ably warm weather. At one morn­ing brief­ing last week, the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, was shown aerial pho­to­graphs of the lack of snow on the coun­try’s rugged moun­tains, which has al­lowed Tal­iban fight­ers more free­dom of move­ment than usual for the sea­son, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial.

A cou­ple of days ear­lier, Pe­traeus had told am­bas­sadors in Kabul that the vi­o­lence level so far this win­ter was “ higher than we ex­pected,” one par­tic­i­pant said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity. More im­por­tant, the par­tic­i­pant said, Pe­traeus pre­dicted that vi­o­lence would re­main el­e­vated through­out the year.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials of­ten ex­plain vi­o­lence in terms of a coun­terin­sur­gency, or COIN, “curve.” The idea is that vi­o­lence rises as new troops pur­sue the Tal­iban in a given area but that this does not nec­es­sar­ily sig­nify a wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tion. It could mean the troops are pur­su­ing in­sur­gents in ar­eas where they have found sanc­tu­ary in the past, forc­ing them to fight.

Then at some point, the the­ory goes, the curve breaks and heads down­ward. If all goes well, af­ter some lag time this is fol­lowed by im­prove­ments in gov­er­nance and Afghans’ per­cep­tion of the sit­u­a­tion. Pe­traeus’s of­fice uses a graph of such a process to ex­plain events in Nawa, the paci­fied district of the south­ern prov­ince of Hel­mand that Pe­traeus calls a “proof of COIN con­cept.”

Pe­traeus told am­bas­sadors he did not ex­pect the COIN curve over­all in Afghanistan to break un­til the lat­ter part of 2011, the par­tic­i­pant said.

Com­pared with last sum­mer, “ the num­bers of attacks right­now are markedly down,” said one se­nior NATO of­fi­cial. “We’re in 2011 now. We’ll see higher num­bers over­all than we did last year, month to month, day to day, through­out. Whether or not it dips off and we break that nexus some­time in 2011 re­mains to be seen, but we’re not pre­dict­ing that.”

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