Citing evidence that Taliban insurgents have expanded their reach across Afghanistan, aid groups and security analysts in the country are challenging as misleading the Obama administration's recent claim that insurgents now control less territory than they did a year ago.
"Absolutely, without any reservation, it is our opinion that the situation is a lot more insecure this year than it was last year," said Nic Lee, the director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, an independent organization that analyzes security dangers for aid groups.
"We don't see COIN has had any impact on the five-year trajectory," he said, referring to the counterinsurgency strategy that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has championed.
While U.S.-led forces have driven insurgents out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan, Taliban advances in the rest of the country may have offset those gains, a cross section of year-end estimates suggests.
Insurgent attacks have jumped at least 66 percent this year, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.
Security analysts say that Taliban shadow governors still exert control in all but one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
A recent United Nations security estimate of the risks that U.N. personnel face as they travel around Afghanistan concluded that security was deteriorating in growing pockets across the country.
In one example, the U.N.'s World Food Program no longer sends its own trucks along the road that links Kabul to Bamiyan, one of the country's safest regions, because a bomb killed four of its staff members on the route in July.
"Our ability to use these routes has decreased," said Challiss McDonough, a Kabul-based spokeswoman for the international food program. "There are fewer places where we have completely unimpeded access."
President Obama offered the assessment of diminished Taliban control Dec. 3 during a surprise visit to the country.
"Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control, and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future," Obama told U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates repeated the claim two weeks later.
U.S. Rear Amd. Greg Smith, the communications director for the American-led military in Afghanistan, argued that by focusing on protecting the country's largest population centers under the administration's counterinsurgency strategy, the U.S.-led military has contained much of the violence and is protecting a growing percentage of the country's 28 million residents, even if the Taliban are operating more widely.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official who closely tracks the conflict in Afghanistan said that his own count, based on news reports, showed insurgency-related violence in at least 231 out of the country's 400 districts in November.
The former official, who agreed to discuss his findings only if he weren't identified because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the count showed the Taliban's reach expanding.
Meanwhile, two servicemen were killed in the country's troubled south Tuesday, bringing the death toll for foreign troops in the country in 2010 to 700, according to an AP count.