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Security without statistics

Sven Pöhle / cdJanuary 8, 2014

Statistics are essential in assessing the security situation in north Afghanistan. Germany's Defense Ministry, however, is no longer publicizing them. Critics see a cold political calculation in the maneuver.

Afghan authorities look over wreckage of an attack in Afghanistan Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Image: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Two members of Afghanistan's security forces were killed in an ambush attack on December 11. One day later, according to Afghan sources, two rebels and a civilian in the Badakhshan Province were killed in a gunfight. A member of the Afghanistan national police force was wounded.

Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, calls such occurrences "security incidents." The heading includes exchanges of gunfire and successfully defused traps and improvised explosive devices.

In its weekly public briefings on the security situation in Afghanistan, the military now only addresses specific examples of such incidents. In its weekly classified reports to the German parliament, the Bundeswehr also refrains from providing comprehensive statistics for incidents in northern Afghanistan.

One reason for the omission is apparently that information provided by Afghan allies is considered unreliable. Ever since the Bundeswehr handed over responsibility for security in northern Afghanistan to local authorities, Germany has become dependent on Afghan assistance in the recording and reporting of such attacks. In June 2013, the German government determined that post-hoc corrections to statistics provided by Afghan forces for the years 2010-2012. At the same time, the government announced that numbers in the Bundeswehr's progress reports would not be made public in the future.

German troops hand over responsibility to local authorities Photo: EPA/JAWED KARGAR +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Germany says incident details from Afghanistan are sometimes unreliableImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Defense Ministry on the defensive

Omid Nourpiour, the Green Party's foreign policy spokesperson, was critical of the Defense Ministry's information policy. That ministry, he said, only utilized such statistics so long as they could be favorably interpreted.

"There's no longer any way to make the statistics fit," Nourpiour said. "So they say, 'We're not opening anything up.' But it really has to do with just not wanting to look bad."

That view is shared by Inge Höger, a Left Party defense policy specialist. "In my view, we're lacking one criterion for an assessment of the security situation. You can only follow it more accurately if you can actually see how many incidents there are, and if the clashes really are - as it's always said - decreasing or if they are increasing."

Germany's Afghanistan mission, Höger said, is being sold as a success when that is not the case.

More incidents

The mot recent statistics shows an increase in security incidents in northern Afghanistan. In 2012, 1,228 incidents were recorded in Germany's area of authority. In the first six months of 2013, that number had already reached 826.

German troops look for explosives in Afghanistan in 2011 Photo: Maurizio Gambarini dpa
Diffusing explosive devices used to be included in the military's reportsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

For Thomas Ruttig, who co-directs the independent Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), there's also a political calculation behind the decision to no longer publicize such figures. "That fits well with the overall picture since the official argument is that the combat troops are being pulled out because the mission was fulfilled and the security situation improved," he told DW.

New criteria

"Security incidents" deal with one criterion only, according to a spokesperson for the Germany's Ministry of Defense in response to a DW inquiry. In the future, the ministry would like to take into account more assessments of Afghan security conditions: competency analyses of Afghan security forces, perceptions of the security situation by locals as well as the threat of anti-government forces.

In the future, the number of such "security incidents" would be published in the federal government's progress report. "Here, then, not just a number, but an accounting of the entire context would be made," said the defense ministry's spokesperson.

Current government estimates place the threat in northern Afghanistan anywhere from low to serious on a province-to-province basis. One year prior to the end of German troop deployments there, the Defense Ministry said, and the security situation in north Afghanistan has improved overall.

"Reality speaks a different language," said Ruttig. From his own research as well as reports from Afghanistan, the Taliban is once again exercising control in many regions.

"If you don't publicize any figures," he said, "then you only have anecdotal evidence for these developments."