The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan incorrectly reported a decline last year in Taliban attacks and is preparing to published corrected numbers that could undercut its narrative of a Taliban in steep decline.
After finding what they called clerical errors, military officials in Kabul said Tuesday that a 7 percent drop in "enemy initiated attacks" for the period from January through December 2012 reported last month will be corrected to show no change in the number of attacks during that span.
The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the coalition's website until it was removed recently without explanation. After The Associated Press inquired about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data and would re-publish the report.
"During a quality control check, ISAF recently became aware that some data was incorrectly entered into the database that is used for tracking security-related incidents across Afghanistan," said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition known officially as the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
Graybeal said a subsequent audit determined that portions of the data from unilateral Afghan military operations were "not properly reflected" in the trends ISAF had reported in its monthly updates on security and violence.
"After including this unilateral ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) data into our database, we have determined that there was no change in the total number of EIAs (enemy initiated attacks) from 2011 to 2012," Graybeal said.
"This was a record-keeping error that we recognized and have now corrected," he added.
The coalition defines enemy initiated attacks as attacks by small arms, mortars, rockets and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. But it does not include IEDs that are found and cleared before they explode.
Trends in Taliban attacks are one yardstick used by ISAF to measure war progress. Others include the state of security in populated areas, the number of coalition and Afghan casualties, the degree to which civilians can move about freely, and the performance of Afghan security forces.
Graybeal said that even though the number of 2012 Taliban attacks was unchanged from 2011, "our assessment of the fundamentals of campaign progress has not changed. The enemy is increasingly separated from the population and the ANSF are currently in the lead for the vast majority of partnered operations."