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Military Struggles How to Measure Success in Afghanistan

How do we know whether we’re winning or losing a war if nobody knows how to measure success? That’s the problem we face in Afghanistan, according to Marine Lt. Gen. John Paxton, director of operations for the Joint Staff, who spoke this morning at a Brookings Institution sponsored conference.

When President Obama gave Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal his marching orders, he said McChrystal had about 12 to 18 months to prove his population centric counterinsurgency strategy was working. The “agreement” between Obama and McChrystal was that instead of a counterterrorism strategy, McChrystal would pursue a “fully resourced COIN strategy,” Paxton said, and the “first increment” of that resourcing would be 30,000 additional troops. U.S. officials are trying to negotiate additional troop contributions from the NATO allies.

While there is uncertainty as to when the clock began ticking, whether it was June when the Marines arrived in southern Afghanistan or when McChrystal’s strategic assessment was delivered in August, military commanders are keenly aware that time is running out. “We know it is a finite amount of resources in terms of people and a finite amount of time,” Paxton said.

Both military and civilian officials are struggling to come up with some way of measuring success or failure in Afghanistan. “What is a true measure of effectiveness? How do you measure stability and security on the ground?... What are those metrics, how do you state them, how do you measure them, how frequently do you look at them… That’s the exact debate the commanders on the ground are having, the PRTs and the inter-agency teams in the theater are having and that we’re going to have back here in Washington.”

He listed a number of possible metrics including: declining levels of corruption, the number of tips provided by the Afghan people on IED locations, the number of markets and bazaars opening up or the number of police chiefs turning in others on the force.

Paxton said the next stage in the “phased” Afghan campaign plan is to attack the insurgent “rat lines” that funnel fighters and supplies from the Pashtun tribal areas in Pakistan into the south of the country. “You can’t get through the capital of the Pashtun belt in Kandahar unless you can open up freedom of movement in the central Helmand river Valley.” Once that area is cleared, Kandahar city and surrounding areas will become the focus of operations.

The demand from Afghanistan and Iraq for intelligence and surveillance aircraft and sensors eats up about 88 percent of the total inventory, he said. Meanwhile, combatant commanders from other areas of the world are “clamoring” for those limited assets that are left over.

Paxton also echoed a complaint I’ve been hearing more frequently from military commanders, that defense industry is not delivering quality and timely gear and weapons systems. “We have a lot of programs that are in jeopardy right now,” he said, singling out the Joint Strike Fighter and future fighting vehicles. “Some have been cancelled in the last couple of years because of Nunn-McCurdy violations, there are cost overruns, they’re not making key performance parameters, they’re not making deadlines.”

-- Greg

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