The full metrics regarding the Afghan War have never been presented to the American, NATO or Afghan publics, thus permitting the unscrupulous on both sides (pro-war and anti-war) to argue their own dubious positions. Each side cherry-picks those statistics that seem to support their position, never mentioning or discussing the contrary information.
This article presents 40 apparently undisputed metrics which compare 2011 with the same period in 2010. The sources for this information are ISAF(NATO), the United Nations, the NGO Security Office, AusAID, the CIA, the World Bank and on-the-ground newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times. These are the facts. It is up to the reader to draw his or own conclusions from these data:
Metric No. 1: Taliban attacks against Coalition forces are down.
Metric No. 2: Total Taliban attacks against Coalition forces and civilians are up.
Metric No. 3: Coalition casualties (killed, maimed and wounded) are up.
Metric No. 4: Afghan civilian casualties are up.
Metric No. 5: The Coalition is finding and destroying more IEDs.
Metric No. 6: The number of IEDs being used by the Taliban is up.
Metric No. 7: More Afghan villages in the South are “safe” from the Taliban.
Metric No. 8: More Afghan villages in the North and East are not “safe” from the Taliban.
Metric No. 9: Coalition night raids on Afghan homes are up.
Metric No. 10: The number of Taliban commanders killed and captured is up.
Metric No. 11: Taliban rocket and other attacks originating from Pakistan are up.
Metric No. 12: Predator drone attacks inside Pakistan are up.
Metric No. 13: Coalition air strikes inside Afghanistan are up.
Metric No. 14: Electricity availability and usage in Afghanistan is up.
Metric No. 15: The number of kilometers of roads in Afghanistan is up.
Metric No. 16: The number of audit reports showing mismanagement of Afghan aid funds is up.
Metric No. 17: The number of Afghan children enrolled in school is up.
Metric No. 18: The number of Afghan schools is up.
Metric No. 19: Afghan child malnutrition has increased.
Metric No. 20: The availability of basic health care for the Afghan people is up.
Metric No. 21: Overall Afghan life expectancy is up.
Metric No. 22: Afghan environmental damage has increased.
Metric No. 23: Afghan drought conditions are worse.
Metric No. 24: The number of acres of poppies being cultivated is up.
Metric No. 25: Attacks on Afghan poppy eradication teams are up.
Metric No. 26: Afghan security force corruption rates remain high.
Metric No. 27: Taliban assassinations of Afghan officials are up.
Metric No. 28: Taliban suicide bombings are up.
Metric No. 29: The number of women and children suicide bombers is up.
Metric No. 30: Coalition arrests of Afghan citizens are up.
Metric No. 31: The number of suspected insurgents in Afghan prisons is up.
Metric No. 32: The number of Taliban surrendering is up.
Metric No. 33: The number of Afghan soldiers deserting is high and unchanged.
Metric No. 34: The number of internally displaced people is up.
Metric No. 35: The number of Afghans both returning to and fleeing from the country is down.
Metric No. 36: Coalition troop levels are falling while Taliban troop levels may be rising.
Metric No. 37: The size of the Afghan National Army is up.
Metric No. 38: The size of the Afghan National and local police forces is up.
Metric No. 39: The number of local anti-Taliban militias is up.
Metric No. 40: Areas being turned over to Afghan security forces by the Coalition are up.
Other metrics are more blurry. For example Taliban attacks in Kabul are down but each attack carried out is more spectacular than the one before it. Overall the lethality of the Taliban attacks (more people killed/wounded per attack) may be up. Attacks may be down in the Kandahar Province countryside but appear up in urban areas. Unemployment is not clear as some statistics show it rising to 50% and other data shows a fall to 35%. Women and minority groups in Afghanistan have made some progress but have also suffered some serious reverses. Election participation is down and electoral corruption seems up. Afghanistan’s Lower House (the Wolesi Jirga or House of the People) is more fractured and divided; and warlords have made comebacks in some areas of the South.
Finally, there are metrics that are simply manufactured. Former President Ronald Reagan once said that there are two kinds of facts, those you look up and those you make up. Such is the case with the Asia Foundation’s just-released survey of Afghans. Paid for by USAID with $300,000 of U.S. taxpayer funds, the politically-connected Washington, D.C. consulting firm, produced the results that American officials wanted. It found that 73% of Afghans supported the Government in Kabul. This prompted the conservative Catholic OnLine to publish a response: Afghans Survey Too Good to Be True.” It said that “very few believe the results (of the survey) are credible.” It quoted Ramazan Brashardost, member of Parliament and former presidential candidate, as stating: “This is bigger than a white lie.” “It seems part of the illusion-weaving to get out.”
In summary, none of these individual metrics standing on their own convey much information. They have to be all be presented and assessed as a group, which has yet to occur. The good men and women in the Coalition and Afghan militaries should not be asked to give their lives or their limbs or their hearing or eyesight based on half-truths.
During America’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was known as “Honest Abe.” People rallied around him in part because they knew that he always told them the truth (good or bad). The truth has a place in wartime. It must be the centerpiece of any war effort, if in fact that war effort is worthwhile.