Last year marked the 11th year of the war in Afghanistan. Disturbing trends in the number of Afghan attacks on coalition troops accompanied positive declines in Improvised Explosive Device attacks and overall allied casualties.
The end of the combat mission in Afghanistan is on the horizon, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to do.
As the U.S. enters the draw-down phase of the war, Afghan watchers predict some sizeable changes in 2013.
THE PRICE OF WAR
Improvised Explosive Devices remain the "principal means" for insurgents to fight, says the International Security Assistance Force. Roughly 70 percent of the civilian casualties caused by insurgents were from IED explosions, according to the most recent figures.
However, the number of IED attacks dropped 17 percent during the peak fighting season of May through August 2012, where the attacks rose above 700 in a month only once. This was a decrease from three months in the summer of 2011 and two months in the summer of 2010.
There was also a decrease in coalition casualties, including a total of 396 allied deaths in 2012, iCasualties reports. American troops made up the lion's share of these with 301 killed, followed by 44 from the United Kingdom.
Leading up to 2014, the anticipated final year of full-scale deployments to the region, troop levels dropped significantly. There were 130,386 ISAF forces in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2012, including 90,000 U.S. troops. The total count shrank to 102,011 as of Dec. 3, 2012, of which 68,000 are American.
ARE THE AFGHANS READY?
As of March 2012, the Afghan National Army was comprised of 195,000 troops with 149,208 officers in the Afghan National Police Force, according to NATO numbers.
By December, those numbers fell to 178,501 and 148,539, respectively.
The difference is due to "average levels of attrition," according to an ISAF spokeswoman, as well as the ANA's slowing its recruitment efforts after reaching its ceiling of 187,000 soldiers.
"The focus of the training mission is now on increasing the quality of the force; developing the right balance of seniority, skills, and specializations in the ANA that are vital to their long term sustainability and success," Canadian Army Capt. Karina Holder tells U.S. News.
But Afghan watchers are worried about another growing statistic that they say is a better indicator of the situation in Afghanistan: green-on-blue attacks.
These skirmishes between allied troops and the Afghan forces they are supposed to train shot up in 2012 to 42 incidents as of November, according to the Institute for the Study of War. There were only 15 the previous year, and five in 2009 and 2010.
"The insider attacks, the green on blue attacks, are very harmful to the U.S. mission there," says Nora Bensahel, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
"It has really limited the ability of U.S. forces to train Afghan forces," she says, "which is ultimately the key mission for the U.S., so we can leave behind some sort of credible security forces."
Allied forces responded by tightening the rules of engagement, also making it harder for the one-on-one training necessary between coalition and Afghan forces.
Some experts see a silver lining in this new distance between the forces.
"You're at a point where you want to push these Afghan units into the lead," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Therefore the timing was not as bad as it could have been."
Green-on-blue attacks accounted for about 15 percent of the total U.S. casualties in 2012. They tapered off, but continued through the year and will likely continue in 2013, says Omar Lamrani, military analyst with Stratfor, a private intelligence organization.
The overall brunt of the casualties falls increasingly on Afghan forces as they begin to take on more responsibility for fighting.