For years, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we've defined enemy attacks as including the discovery of IEDs. That is, an IED that was fired or discovered equally counted as an "attack" for statistical purposes. I think we made this change in Iraq in spring 2004, where until then the only thing that counted as an attack was one that inflicted casualties. I had some difficulties with this since we couldn't track enemy direct fire attacks poised but cancelled at the last moment unknown to us. But as long as we were consistent, it helped paint a picture.
Recently, there was a dispute in the press between our numbers and the UN's numbers on whether violence in Afghanistan was declining or not. Our stats said yes. I assumed the difference was one of definitions between militarily relevant violence and all (including crime) so that the statistical measures were not necessarily in conflict. This makes me wonder:
NATO, which says enemy attacks are down eight percent, only includes "executed attacks" and not IED finds or instances where the Taliban intimidate local people.
While our casualties are down this year, which shows we've had success (unless we are avoiding casualties by sitting in our bases and not seeking out the enemy), civilian casualties are up. The report at least notes this is almost all due to Taliban attacks and that the Taliban are deliberately targeting civilians.
But if the statistical measure of attacks has been made, is the change retroactive or did we just change mid-fight to affect the graphs? I can understand changing how we measure violence. As I said, counting discovered IEDs always seemed like a case of looking where the light is best since we can't discover a planned mortar attack that is cancelled at the last moment or anything like that. But I understood why we would want to count failed IED attacks even when we couldn't count other types of aborted attacks. If our new statistics were changed going back to not count discovered IEDs, our measure is still good.
The fact that our own casualties are down in 2011 indicates to me that the attack statistics don't conflict with reality. Civilian casualties could well be up and be consistent with our statistics if the enemy is focused more on the civilians to indimate them (and avoid dying in combat against increasingly effective Afghan forces as well as foreign forces).
And of course, we could be winning in the field and someone could be rigging the attack statistics because they don't believe we could possibly win and want to get our of Afghanistan no matter what.
I should probably look for the statistics.
UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.