The closest thing the war has to a report card comes in the form of a new quarterly report from the United Nations. And the American troop surge appears to be dangerously close to flunking. According to the U.N., not only is violence on the rise, but so are civilian casualties. Compared to the spring of 2010, civilian deaths and injuries are up 20 percent, with 1,090 dead and 1,860 wounded. Over 435,000 Afghans are displaced by the war, a 4 percent rise.
The U.N. report directly contradicts an emerging talking point in the U.S. military. Lt. Gen. John Allen, the incoming war commander, told a Senate panel on Tuesday that “violence is five percent lower so far this year in comparison to last year,” (.pdf) a statistic that David Ignatius attributes to Gen. David Petraeus in his Wednesday column. Not only is violence not going down, if the U.N. is to believed, it’s going way up — far from a war effort that’s arresting Taliban momentum.
The silver lining for the U.S.: its proportion of civilian casualties continues to decline. Only 10 percent of casualties, 292 since March, were the responsibility of U.S. and allied military action. In 2010, the U.S. was responsible for 16 percent of 2,777 civilian deaths.
But whatever counterinsurgency strategy remains in Afghanistan wasn’t premised on bringing down the proportion of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. It was premised on protecting the population from insurgent violence.