Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Iraq Remains A Deadlier Place Than Afghanistan

The State Department recently released its annual report on terrorism. It included a comparison of Iraq and Afghanistan. It showed that the security situation in the two countries have been going in opposite directions. The number of attacks in Afghanistan has slowly been increasing, while in Iraq they have hit a plateau. At the same time, Iraq has remained a far more deadly place.

Violence in Iraq has leveled off since the end of the sectarian civil war. In Iraq, attacks declined from 2007 to 2009, and then flat lined. According to the State Department, there were 6,210 attacks in 2007, 3,255 in 2008, 2,458 in 2009, 2,687 in 2010, and 2,265 in 2011. The number of casualties, which included killed, wounded, and kidnapped, followed a straight downward trend going from 44,014 in 2007 to 19,077 in 2008 to 16,869 in 2009 to 15,108 in 2010 until finally hitting 12,912 in 2011. That drop concealed the fact that security incidents had almost the same amount of victims during that five-year stretch. In 2007, there were 7.08 casualties per attack, 5.86 per attack in 2008, 6.86 in 2009, 5.62 in 2010, and 5.38 in 2011. The insurgency has lost most of its popular support, and cannot carry out anything like the number of operations as it once did. Likewise, the militias are no longer fighting against Sunni militants, and largely concentrated upon the Americans afterwards that didn’t cause half as many dead and wounded. At the same time, despite the drop in attacks, militants have been able to cause almost as many casualties in 2011 as 2008 showing that they have adapted to the new security situation within the country. Al Qaeda in Iraq for instance, specializes in targeting Shiites at every pilgrimage and celebration each year. In just a few bombings they can cause mass casualties highlighting their economy of force.

The state of security in Afghanistan is much different. There attacks have steadily increased. In 2007 there were 1,122, 1,219 in 2008, 2,124 in 2009, 3,346 in 2010, and 2,872 in 2011. That coincided with the number of casualties increasing as well. There were 4,647 in 2007, 5,488 in 2008, 7,588 in 2009, 9,035 in 2010, and 9,171 in 2011. Looking at those figures it would seem that Afghanistan was a more dangerous place than Iraq since there were more security incidents and people killed, wounded, and kidnapped. When analyzing how many casualties were caused per incident however, a different picture emerges. The statistics showed a slight decline from 2007 to 2011. In 2007, there were 4.14 casualties per attack. That went slightly up to 4.50 per attack in 2008, before going down to 3.57 in 2009, 2.70 in 2010, and 3.19 in 2011. That means that while the Afghan insurgents are carrying out more and more operations each year, they are leading to fewer casualties. They are actually becoming less efficient even though the aggregate numbers would point to the opposite conclusion.

Comparison Of Violence In Iraq To Afghanistan 2007-2011

Attacks in Iraq
People killed, wounded, kidnapped by terrorism
People killed, wounded, kidnapped per attack
Attacks in Afghanistan
People killed, wounded, kidnapped by terrorism
People killed, wounded, and kidnapped per attack

Events in Afghanistan receive far more press coverage than Iraq these days. That’s largely because there are American and European forces in the former, while none in the latter. The fighting in Afghanistan also seems more intractable and open ended than in Iraq. What the statistics reveal is a far more determined and adaptable group of insurgents in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Despite the increase in operations, the bases in neighboring Pakistan, and the support of parts of the government there, the Afghan insurgents have proven to be less deadly over the last five years. The exact opposite has been happening in Iraq. There, the militants have become more and more efficient. They have adapted to the loss of much of their popular support and the end of the sectarian war, and honed their skills. That all shows their resiliency when many believed they would be in decline by now. It also highlights the deadlock in security that Iraq is currently facing where the insurgents cannot challenge the government, but it cannot eliminate the militants. The result is that both Iraq and Afghanistan have a future of violence before them.


United States Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011,” July 2012

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