During his unannounced trip to Kabul today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had the unfortunate timing to arrive on the worst day for civilian casualties this year. The Washington Post, however, gave plenty of room for Panetta to cling to the military’s “we’re winning” mantra despite a security situation so bad that his trip could not be announced in advance:
Panetta came to Afghanistan to confer with military leaders on plans to withdraw troops and deal with rising violence. He noted that despite the increase in bloodshed in recent weeks, overall violence was lower than in previous years.
“We have a tough fight on our hands” Panetta said. He reaffirmed the United State’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan and said he believed that commitment would help stymie the Taliban’s ambition.
Over at the New York Times, the headline proclaims “Panetta Visits Afghanistan Amid Mounting Violence” and the article opens by noting the civilian casualties:
Leon E. Panetta, the United States defense secretary, arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday, after the deadliest day for civilians this year and amid controversy over a NATO airstrike the day before in which Afghan officials say 18 women and children were killed.
The article goes on to note, however, that data for the first quarter of this year showed reduced civilian casualties but that reduction may be going away now:
Last week, the head of the United Nations Afghanistan office, Jan Kubis, said that in the first quarter of this year, civilian casualties had dropped for the first time since the United Nations began keeping statistics in 2007. That positive trend has appeared to be eroding in recent days. Another official in the office, James Rodehaver, said, “One thing we can say is that this has been the deadliest day of the year so far for civilians.”
The metric I have followed most closely in monitoring Afghanistan violence has been ANSO’s (Afghanistan NGO Safety Office) reports, and specifically their data on Armed Opposition Group activity. Their latest report (pdf) includes data for the first quarter and a chart summarizing trends in AOG violence over the years in Afghanistan appears above. As seen in the inset, ANSO sees a significant decrease in violence for 2012 over 2011. Their discussion of this decrease is revealing: Read more