Metrics of failure in Afghanistan?
One of the problems with metrics is that they give the enemy something to shoot for too. They also tend to be misleading too. When the operational tempo goes up for either side in a war casualties increase and there are more attacks. This does not give you a measure of who is winning.
Administration officials are conducting what one called a "test run" of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories -- including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources -- with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.
Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of "clear benchmarks" and no "blank check."
Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising U.S. and NATO casualty rates, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict. An upcoming assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new military commander in Afghanistan, is expected to lay the groundwork for requests for additional U.S. troop deployments in 2010.
The administration's concern about waning public support and the war's direction has been compounded by strains in the U.S. relationship with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Facing their own public opinion problems, both appear increasingly resentful of U.S. demands for improved performance in the face of what they see as insufficient American support.
In recent interviews, civil and military officials in Pakistan drew a sharp contrast between the billions of dollars in assistance that George W. Bush's administration gave, with few strings attached, to then-President Pervez Musharraf -- a general who came to power in a military coup -- and what they see as efforts to condition assistance to the democratically elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
"Our soldiers wear less armor, their vehicles are less armored, and they have suffered more casualties" in the fight against the Taliban than the United States and NATO combined, the official said. Pakistani combat deaths since 2003 surpassed 2,000 this month as the military engaged Taliban forces in the Swat Valley.
"The only area where there is a tangible improvement is in training," the Pakistani military official said. Training aid has increased from $2 million to $4 million over the past year, he said, along with a doubling to 200 of the number of Pakistani army officers brought to the United States for courses.
Opposition to congressional efforts to legislate conditions on war funding and aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan is one area of agreement among the three governments. Iraq's failure to achieve benchmarks mandated by Congress provided an easy target for opponents of that war and contributed to the loss of public support in the United States.
In the absence of strict guidelines from the administration, Menendez said in an interview, "we are definitely moving to a set of metrics that can give us benchmarks as to how we are proceeding" and whether Obama's strategy "is pursuing our national security interests."
The White House hopes to preempt Congress with its own metrics. The document currently being fine-tuned, called the Strategic Implementation Plan, will include separate "indicators" of progress under nine broad "objectives" to be measured quarterly, according to an administration official involved in the process. Some of the about 50 indicators will apply to U.S. performance, but most will measure Afghan and Pakistani efforts.
The current situation in Afghanistan is described as deteriorating, but it has contained a lot of bad news for the Taliban. They are in touble in their sanctuaries acoss the border in Pakistan and the leadership is in disarray. They have had to retreat in the face of US and British operations in Helmand. Some of those retreating enemy forces have attempted attacks elsewhere in the country as a means of distraction and attempts to show relevance.
If you are looking for excuses to lose and leave, you can always find metrics that will lead you there. That is what Democrats like Obama did in Iraq. A realistic appraisal by the Taliban of their own situation right now would find them looking pretty desperate. Their main hope is that Democrats like Menendez will bail them out.