WASHINGTON — The American-led military coalition in Afghanistan backed off Tuesday from its claim that Taliban attacks dropped off in 2012, tacitly acknowledging a hole in its widely repeated argument that violence is easing and that the insurgency is in steep decline.
In response to Associated Press inquiries about its latest series of statistics on security in Afghanistan, the coalition command in Kabul said it had erred in reporting a 7 percent decline in attacks. In fact there was no decline at all, officials said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is among the senior officials who had publicly repeated the assertion of an encouraging drop-off in Taliban attacks last year, was disturbed to learn of the error, said his spokesman, George Little.
"This particular set of metrics doesn't tell the full story of progress against the Taliban, of course, but it's unhelpful to have inaccurate information in our systems," Little said.
A coalition spokesman, Jamie Graybeal, attributed the miscounting to clerical errors and said the problem does not change officials' basic assessment of the war, which they say is on a positive track as American and allied forces withdraw.
The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the website of the coalition, the International Security Assistance Force, on Jan. 22 as part of its monthly update on trends in security and violence. It was removed from the website recently without explanation. After the AP asked last week about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data. As of Tuesday afternoon it had not reappeared.
U.S. and allied officials have often cited declining violence as a sign that the Taliban has been degraded and that Afghan forces are in position to take the lead security role when the last U.S. combat troops leave Dec. 31, 2014.
In December, Panetta said "violence is down" for 2012 and Afghan forces "have gotten much better at providing security" in areas where they have taken the lead. He said the Taliban could be expected to continue to attack, "but overall they are losing."
Little said Panetta was briefed "very recently" on the erroneous data.