Another official report says “things just getting worse” in Afghanistan

The other side of “Coin”.

We do not support the [counter-insurgency] perspective that this constitutes "things getting worse before they get better", but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse.

That's the verdict of a report from the respected think tank the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which monitors trends in violence in Afghanistan on behalf of aid organisations, as reported in today's Guardian.

The ANSO report also reveals that June brought a record number of Taliban attacks -- up 51 per cent on the previous year to 1,319 operations. Meanwhile, despite Stanley McChrystal's "protect-the-population" counter-insurgency (or "Coin") motto, and the Coinistas' obsession with winning Afghan hearts and minds using not-so-original "population-centric" tactics, the number of civilians killed by both sides in this conflict rose by 23 per cent.

The response from our former man in Kabul, who now speaks on behalf of Nato? From the Guardian article:

On Saturday Mark Sedwill, Nato's ambassador in Kabul, said the increase in violence this year had always been expected and it was a sign that the coalition was "taking the fight to the Taliban".

I wonder if William Hague has clocked yet that his department is filled with fantastists.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.