AAN in Media

Afghanistan by the numbers: inside the fight over facts


Christian Science Monitor, 2 February 2018

Longer quotes by AAN’s Thomas Ruttig after recent restrictions on Afghan war metrics by the US military in Afghanistan:

“Of course it’s a cover-up. What else can it be, when you hide figures? The thing is, it is not going well,” says Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) with decades of experience in Afghanistan.

“There are millions and millions [of dollars] thrown out for what they call ‘public diplomacy’ and ‘narrative building,’ or whatever, and no one except themselves is believing in it,” says Mr. Ruttig, speaking from Berlin.

The war is “definitely not ended or even helped toward that end, by playing these nontransparent games with the numbers and the facts,” says Ruttig. All the five trends he monitors – from security incidents and territorial control to Afghan force casualties – have grown worse since 2015, and many are at record levels.

“It means the conflict has become more violent, more brutal, and more widespread,” adds Ruttig. “It also would be good, vis-à-vis voters and taxpayers, if those figures remained in the public sphere so we can make our own assessment of how our governments are doing.” (…)

“ ‘Strategic [areas]’ often means different things to different sides,” says Ruttig of AAN. The Taliban foothold in what the US military calls “dusty districts,” for example, which are not close to main roads or cities, may not be deemed significant to Washington but are critical to the Taliban.

“I have heard [US commanders] say, ‘If the Taliban are there, then we don’t bother too much about them,’ ” says Ruttig. “That’s exactly the wrong thing, because the Taliban are quite happily living and organizing themselves in the ‘dusty districts’ – they don’t need much. And from there, they move forward.”

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