Only one of the 215th Corps’ four brigades is anywhere near full battle readiness. In fact, a Pentagon report (pdf) in early December revealed that only one of the ANA’s 23 brigades across the country had reached that point. The Taliban’s success in infiltrating its ranks has contributed to the number of “green-on-blue”, or insider attacks, in which Afghan troops turn their guns on their foreign mentors. There were 12 such attacks in Helmand in 2012, all fatal, sawing away at the bonds of trust on which the Nato exit strategy is based.

Even more importantly, there are early signs that the ANA may be struggling to hold the line on a critical front in the war – the ability to protect Afghan civilians from the Taliban. The latest UN figures show that the Taliban are now responsible for 84% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, while the government and its foreign allies are responsible for only 6% (10% are unattributable). And the data for the August-October period shows a dramatic spike in those killings, up 28% from the same period last year, suggesting that ordinary Afghans may be becoming more vulnerable as the Afghan army takes responsibility for protecting them…

“The insurgency has also retained its capability to carry out attacks at roughly the same level as last year,” the Pentagon report conceded. “Despite the tactical progress of ANSF-Isaf joint operations, the insurgency remains adaptable with a regenerative capacity. It retains the capability to emplace substantial numbers of improvised explosive devices and conduct high-profile attacks.”