24 February 2010

How to Measure Success(es) in Afghanistan

The Army is big on delivering measurable results. No personal performance review, no unit training activity, no combat exercise or operation can go without some sort of documentable evaluation of what we did, what we meant to do, and how we can do it better next time.

In a "traditional" war--not exactly the right word, but I'll try to define my terms for purposes of this conversation--the metrics of success are pretty straight-forward. You can measure how many bad guys you capture or kill, for example, and how many beans, bullets, and bandages you have left. In a counterinsurgency (the Army abbreviates this "COIN," and pronounces it "coy-en.") or low-intensity conflict (LIC) scenario, the metrics are harder to come by.

Our objectives might be to help establish a stable civil governance capable of delivering people's basic needs such as food and water and security, as well as infrastructural improvements such as roads and electrical power. How do we get there? How do we make sure that we're on the right path? In other words, how do we quantifiably measure progress toward making life "normal" for people?

These are key questions, not only for our political leaders and military commanders, but also for our taxpayers and our foot soldiers. If we can point to concrete ways our presence is (or is not) making a difference, we will not be as prone to emotional ploys for this or that strategery. "Fighting for freedom," however commendable an ideal, is not a quantifiable objective, just as "hope is not a course of action." At the end of my deployment, I'll want to be able to say that I made a difference, even if that difference was small in scale--down to a couple of names and neighborhoods in a country I may never see again.

I want to be able to tell my wife and kids exactly why I left them for a year.

I wasn't able to deliver that after my first deployment. I went to the sandbox--a different sandbox than most of my buddies, but the sandbox--and waited there, in the desert. There was no threat of direct fire, at least at the time that I was there, and only a vague sense of an IED threat. We were more danger to ourselves. We had some laughs. Saw some things. Even did some stupidly risky things, and lived to tell about it.

I want to learn my lesson by keeping my eyes open for the next lesson.

Foreign Policy blogger and Washington Post defense correspondent Tom Ricks recently posted a series briefly describing some metrics proposed by Australian COIN guru David Kilcullen, himself the author most recently of "The Accidental Guerilla." In the series--Ricks tongue-in-cheekily calls it "Kilcullenpalooza"--Kilcullen mentions bullet-point-by-bullet-point those factors by which commanders and soldiers (and We the People) can begin to measure operational successes:
Part 1: What NOT to measure in a COIN campaign.
Part 2: How to measure your effects on the Afghan population.
Part 3: How to take the measure of an Afghan official.
Part 4: How to measure Afghan army and police units.
Part 5: How to measure the enemy.

1 comment:

  1. You're right. I'd like to think we're offering a glimmer of hope by making it possible for people to have access to education and a safe environment.

    My husband, because of what he does, had a lot of contacts with locals. 80% of their patient load were children. He saw locals in a clinic or hospital everyday, and also trained doctors and nurses there at the FOB hospital. The main disappointment for him? That they weren't doing this all in the small hospital located in the town. That, he felt, would have provided a sense of more stability and commitment --after all they have centuries of "furriners" coming and going (Ghengis Khan was purportedly the worst, though).
    That was his main measurement of success. If he could heal some kid, or a parent --that went far. I've written alot about this stuff on my blog. Search under "Afghanistan" or FST.
    Still, for all his work, it didn't stop the T-ban from lobbing bombs at them. So the metrics in what he's doing...while he's healing them, whether or not they'll value you this later on is a hopeful guess.
    Anyway, the other thing that happened was people from here started sending him tons of stuff for the kids. Candy, shoes, clothes... well, it may seem small, but every little bit helps.


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