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Afghanistan and the Uncertain Metrics of Progress

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The Status of the War in the Spring of 2011

By Anthony H. Cordesman May 10, 2011

The war in Afghanistan is now approaching its tenth year. In spite of that fact, the US, allied countries, ISAF, and the UN have failed to develop adequate unclassified reporting on the progress of the war, to provide meaningful transparency on the problems and challenge it faces, and to provide a clear and detailed plan for the future.

The Burke Chair has developed a new survey of unclassified metrics and key narrative statements in an effort to both help provide more transparency on the war, and to illustrate the critical areas where analyses and data are lacking. This new survey has seven parts:

Part I: The Failures that Shaped Today’s War

Part II: Transitioning to the New Strategy: 2009-2010

Part III: Key Ongoing Challenges

Part IV: Hold and Build, and the Challenge of Development

Part V: Building Effective Afghan Forces

Part VI: Showing Victory is Possible

Part VII: The Problem of Pakistan

Unclassified Official Reporting Is Lacking in Transparency and Adequate Coverage

Taken collectively, the unclassified data now available have many critical limitations. The US and ISAF have reduced the amount of unclassified metrics and other data released on the war in the course of 2010 and 2011. No allied government provides credible reporting on the progress of the war, and the Afghan government provides little detail of any kind.

The UN, which has major responsibilities for aid, has failed to provide a meaningful overview of how aid requirements are generated, how aid efforts are managed and coordinated, of how funds are used, of the quality of fiscal controls and auditing, and of the effectiveness and impact of aid.

An attempt to survey metrics, maps, and narrative can only highlight key trends and developments within the limits imposed by unclassified official reporting. Moreover, metrics are not a substitute for the kind of narrative that is critical to understand the complexity of this war, and put numbers, charts, and maps in context. This is a case where facing the real-world complexity of the conflict is essential to winning it.

There are still, however, are areas where unclassified metrics and key narrative do provide important insights into the war. There also are areas where ISAF does provide detailed reporting --notably NTM-A reporting on the development of Afghan forces. Moreover, some of these metrics reflect real progress since the adoption of the new strategy for the war, and indicate that a more frank, meaningful, and open reporting system would do a far more convincing job of winning support for the conflict – as well as be a way of obtaining the kind of feedback and informed criticism that could help meet the many problems and challenges that still shape the course of the fighting.

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