The Afghan-Pakistan War
July 7, 2008
Finding detailed and unbiased reporting on the Afghan war is extremely difficult. This report provides an objective, nonpartisan perspective on the conflict in Afghanistan. It describes the current successes and failures in as much detail as possible, and illustrates many of the challenges likely to face NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan in the future. While not directly addressing either Senator John McCain or Senator Barak Obama’s positions on the conflict, this report can be used as a neutral basis for evaluating both candidates’ policies.
The full report can be downloaded here.
The Department of Defense has recently begun publishing biannual reports on “Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” in a report roughly equivalent to the DoD’s quarterly progress reports on Iraq. This is a major step forward in US government reporting on the war, but the war remains underreported when compared to the conflict in Iraq. There is no equivalent to the State Department Iraq weekly status report. Testimony to Congress, while useful, does not provide detailed statements or back up slide with maps, graphs, and other data on the course of the war.
The same is true of virtually all of the other governments providing NATO/ISAF forces, and of NATO/ISAF. There are some useful data on the reasons for deploying forces, casualties, and the units actually deployed, but no real analysis of the course of the fighting, threat developments, and relative success.
Most NGO and governmental reporting on aid is equally uninformative. There is largely anecdotal reporting on projects and successes, but little reporting on actual spending, the overall aid effort, and measures of requirements or effectiveness. Two exceptions to this rule are the reports published by the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at CSIS:
Breaking Point: Measuring Progress in Afghanistan (March 2007)
In the Balance: Measuring Progress in Afghanistan (December 2005)
The Afghan government provides little or no useful data.
Developing An Unclassified Survey
The end result is not a "forgotten" war as much as one where governments have failed to provide meaningful transparency, and where an effort to provide a meaningful overview using unclassified information becomes a cut and paste exercise in finding materials that provide enough detail to at to show where the war is going and the challenges involved.
The present draft is a rough cut at developing a comprehensive briefing on the current status of the war, and has been extensively updated recently. It pulls together a wide range of material from US commands, NATO/ISAF, UNAMA, the US and other NATO/ISAF governments, and private organizations like Senlis. It is at best, however, a start.
There are many critical limits in the material available. For example, Senlis -- which sometimes tends to exaggerate the Taliban and Al Qa'ida challenge as part of its effort to increase aid and NATO/ISAF troop strength -- provides most of the available maps that give some idea of the progress in the fighting and the relative balance of Afghan Central government, Pakistani central government, NATO/ISAF, Taliban, and Al Qa'ida presence and influence.
The end result is necessarily long and complex. The full brief runs over 200 pages. Even so, it has to rely heavily on maps, graphs, and tables to provide an overview of the unclassified reporting that is available at the cost of depth in any given area. (Please note that some material was also blurred or poorly defined in the original version, and this could not be corrected.)
This briefing will be steadily expanded and revised over time. It is also my hope that there are useful summary maps, charts, and assessments that we have missed, Accordingly, I would be very grateful for any additional material you can suggest, and for corrections to the data shown.