The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday dismissed NATO figures showing a decrease in insurgent attacks, saying the statistics reflect troop withdrawals and a “cowardly” avoidance of contact.
NATO said the decline in attacks showed that its troops had been able to “reverse the momentum” of the insurgents’ campaign, an interpretation that the Taliban “strongly and categorically” denied.
NATO’s latest official figures show attacks on its forces dropped by five percent in the first eight months of this year compared to 2011, but are still running at about 100 a day.
In August alone, attacks decreased by nine percent compared with the same month last year, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
But even without the Taliban’s bombastic claims the statistics covering attacks on ISAF forces alone do not paint an overall picture of the state of the war.
They contrast with United Nations numbers showing that August was the second deadliest month in five years for civilians, with a total of 374 — more than 10 a day — killed and 581 injured.
The fact that local troops are taking an increasingly active role in the war as NATO prepares to pull out in 2014 could also account for the drop in the number of recorded attacks against ISAF forces.
The NATO figures do not cover the rising toll from so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, in which Afghan forces turn their weapons on their ISAF allies. Such attacks have killed 51 ISAF troops this year.
They also do not take into account the mounting toll among Afghan forces, who are dying at five times the rate of NATO soldiers.
ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Gunter Katz said the NATO numbers pointed to successes on the battlefield.
“The main reason is that we are able to reverse the momentum of their campaign, pushing them out of the urban areas, fighting them in remote areas,” Katz said.
Another reason was that Afghan forces were becoming increasingly capable and “fighting the insurgency very successfully”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had a different take.
“The enemy has chosen to withdraw from large parts of the country and have abandoned major bases, which naturally amount to a decrease in attacks,” he said in a statement posted on the militants’ website.
“Another reason for the decline is that the enemy has chosen to limit its movement outside its bases. “That the cowardly enemy refuses to confront Mujahedeen face to face, it only displays their own weakness and not that of the heroic Mujahedeen.” This is a reversal of a regular NATO accusation that the Taliban avoid direct contact with ISAF forces and resort to planting homemade bombs, which are responsible for a high proportion of military and civilian deaths.
Mujahid said the Taliban would now turn their focus towards operations “which will target the enemy with large-scale attacks inside their own bases and will force them to flee the country”. ISAF is still smarting over a spectacular attack earlier this month in which Taliban stormed a heavily fortified base in southern Afghanistan, destroying aircraft worth tens of millions of dollars and killing two US Marines.