Saturday, January 16, 2010

Afghanistan: How to lose a War – and possibly, how to win one

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy Anthony H. Cordesman has written a new report, “Afghan Metrics: How to Lose a War – and Possibly, How to Win One.”

Link to the full report

Nine months after President Obama announced a new strategy in Afghanistan, the US still seems undecided as to how to actually shape and implement that strategy and how to measure its success. President Obama may have made his decisions, but it is far from clear that his Administration has agreed on how to act upon them, or has the right mix of civil-military capabilities to do so.

There have been continuing reports of divisions – some minor and some serious -- between the Presidents civil and national security advisors, over the meaning of the 2011 deadline, over the future cost and budgets for the war, and over the timing and size of US military and civilian deployments. Equally seriously, there seems to be a serious risk that debates over resources, when and how to act, and various turf fights will undercut action in the field in the same way that crippled US and NATO/ISAF efforts during 2002 through early 2009.

No mix of metrics can adequately describe the way the US has fought the war to date, and particularly the problems it encountered in adapting to irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and the challenges of armed nation building in Afghanistan. The metrics that are available, however, reinforce the more detailed military history and lessons analysis now being developed by the US Army. They also add a major dimension – the extent to which the war was systematically underresourced, and how the US failed to act decisively in dealing with its own internal problems, the problems in the NATO/ISAF alliance and Afghan government, and the need to focus on the Afghan population rather than tactical victories against the Taliban.

The Burke Chair has developed a detailed analysis of these metrics showing key trends from 2009 to the present, and exploring the issues that must be addressed in order to implement President Obama’s new strategy over the coming years. This analysis builds on an earlier analysis covering combat metrics for 2009, but expands this study to cover the entire war, look at a wider range of metrics and examine resource, political, and aid issues as well as trends in combat. The study is entitled “Afghan Metrics: How to Lose a War - and Possibly How to Win One” and can be downloaded from the CSIS web site at:

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