The Afghanistan-Pakistan War

Measuring Success (or Failure)

It has now been more than six years since the start of the Afghan-Pakistan War, and serious questions still exist about the way in which the US, the UN, NATO/ISAF, and individual allied countries plan and analyze the war. The problems involved are partly disguised by the lack of transparency in official reporting. The Department of Defense has issued one meaningful unclassified report on progress in the war. The US General Accountability Office has issued important analyses of the flow aid and problems in creating effective Afghan military and police forces. The UN has issued a series of reports on the progress (or total lack of it) in counternarcotics programs.

Aside from that, however, almost all official reporting has strikingly little meaningful content and even less credibility. Bad as most US official reporting may be, NATO/ISAF reporting is a substantive vacuum with little more than hollow factoid or spin. No European or other government in NATO/ISAF has issued meaningful status reporting or analysis on the course of the war, and their official web pages have virtually no useful content. UN and other aid reporting does not provide any meaningful analysis of how aid meets validated requirements, has no meaningful measures of effectiveness, and often does not provide any useful overview of how aid funds are actually allocated.

A recent CSIS survey of US, UN, NATO/ISAF, and allied unclassified reporting  --  entitled “The Afghan-Pakistan War: A Status Report” makes these problems all too clear. It is possible to pull together a wide range of summary information by drawing on mix of sources, but the omissions, time lags, lacunae, and credibility problems in such reporting are striking and raise serious questions about the objectivity and credibility of many official reports.

No one can survey the quality and content of classified reporting, but discussions with military staffs, intelligence officers, and other officials are not reassuring. There are often pockets of excellent reporting and analysis in given commands and sectors of the battlefield. It is far from clear, however, that effective, integrated net assessment of the trends shaping the entire war exists at any level, or within any institution or government. In many case, background conversations show that both intelligence and other official analysis is success and spin oriented, stovepiped, unrelated to impact on war fighting, and deeply divided by command, country, and institution.

These problems are compounded by the lack of a meaningful joint campaign plan both at the national and institutional level. Such a plan is supposedly in development within the US government, but will not be fully ready before the Bush Administration goes out of office and its validity and content is unclear. No such plan exists at the NATO/ISAF level, and if one exists at the allied country level, it seems to be kept remarkably secret. Concepts and vague ”strategies” are not plans and neither are intentions. A meaningful strategy and plan require a sound analysis of the current situation and future requirements, detailed explanations of how they are to be carried out, credible allocations of resources, and comprehensive measures of effectiveness. Anything less is an intellectual fraud.

The question now is what needs to be done. One key task is to create the kind of constantly updated, integrated operational plan just described. The other is to make basic improvements in reporting and analysis at every level, to tie such reporting to operational needs and plans, to ensure that it is integrated into net assessments, and to demand that it be both objective and include suitable measures of effectiveness. Two new reports describe what kind of analysis is needed, and how to use more realistic measures of effectiveness and the trends towards success and failure. The first report  --- entitled “ANALYZING THE AFGHAN-PAKISTAN WAR” provides a summary description of what is needed. The second --- entitled “The Afghanistan-Pakistan War: Measuring Success (or Failure)” provides a Powerpoint summary of the areas that need to be covered as part of an effective joint campaign plan, and a comparison of the critical weaknesses in far too much official, military, and intelligence reporting (shown in black) and the kind of reporting that is actually needed (in red).

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy