Evaluating Progress in Afghanistan-Pakistan

The Obama administration's draft metrics for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as obtained by Foreign Policy.

The goal of the United States is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

Background: During his March 27, 2009 speech announcing our new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama said "going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable." This paper outlines a process to fulfill that directive. The intent is to use this assessment process to highlight both positive and negative trends and issues that may call for policy adjustments over time.

Agreed MetricsThe supporting objectives of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy form the framework for evaluating progress. The indicators within each of the objectives represent a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures, intended to capture objective and subjective assessments.

Common Baseline: The ODNI provided a baseline assessment of the metrics on July 17, 2009 from which progress will be measured; this is our common start point.

Process: By March 30, 2010 and on regular intervals thereafter, the interagency will draft an assessment of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a check and balance on the interagency, a separate assessment will also be produced by a Red Team, led by the National Intelligence Council.

Objective 1. Disrupt terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.

Metrics: Please see the attached classified annex.

Objective 2a. Assist efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan.


  1. Progress towards Pakistan's civilian government and judicial system becoming stable and free of military involvement
  2. Pakistan's actions to take necessary steps to ensure economic and financial stability, job creation, and growth
  3. Support for human rights
  4. Development of an enduring, strategic partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan
  5. Pakistani public opinion of government performance
  6. Demonstrable action by government against corruption, resulting in incrwased trust and confidence of the Pakistani public

Objective 2b. Develop Pakistan's counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities; continue to support Pakistan's efforts to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups.


  1. Effectiveness of Pakistani civilian, intelligence and military in conducting counterinsurgency operations across the clear-hold-build phases to defeat insurgent groups
  2. Level of militant-initiated violence
  3. Extent of militant-controlled areas in Pakistan
  4. Effectiveness of Pakistani border security efforts

Objective 2c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Pakistan.


  1. Effectiveness of security, governance, and development assistance
  2. Support from allies, international organizations, and other key players, including China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and UAE
  3. Coordination of international efforts by the U.N.
  4. Status of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan
  5. Pakistani policies and resources committed to maintaining international support

Objective 3a. Defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.


  1. Degree to which security operations are integrated into the overall COIN campaign
  2. Level of insurgent-related violence
  3. Public perceptions of security
  4. Percent of population living in districts/areas under insurgent control
  5. Percent of population living in districts/areas undergoing clearing operations
  6. Percent of populations living in districts/areas "held" by coalition and/or ANSF and where "build" activities are ongoing
  7. Percent of key lines of communication under government control
  8. Effectiveness of Afghan border security efforts
  9. Level of trust and confidence by the Afghan people in the ANSF's (Army and Police) ability to provide sustained security
  10. Capability, to include size, of the ANA and ANP
  11. Effectiveness of ANSF-ISAF partnered counterinsurgency operations
  12. Ability of the ANSF to assume lead security responsibility
  13. Level of corruption within the ANSF
  14. Ability of the ANSF to handle their own logistics needs

Objective 3b. Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.


  1. Afghan Government's institutions at the national, provincial, and local level, including ability to hold credible elections in 2009 and 2010
  2. Effectiveness of the Afghan Government in collecting revenues (both in absolute terms and as a percentage of budget requirements) and executing its budget at the national, provincial, and local levels
  3. Public perception of Afghanistan's justice sector and commitment to providing the rule of law at the national, provincial, and local levels
  4. Demonstrable action by the government against corruption, resulting in increased trust and confidence of the Afghan public
  5. Support for human rights
  6. Public perception at the district level of the Afghan Government's effectiveness and sustained ability to provide services
  7. Afghanistan's economic stability and development with emphasis on agriculture
  8. Volume and value of narcotics
  9. Successful interdiction and prosecution of high-profile narco-traffickers
  10. Afghan Government's efforts to develop and execute reconciliation programs at the national, provincial, and local levels with U.S. and international support

Objective 3c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Afghanistan.


  1. Support from allies, international organizations, and other key regional countries in providing resources to Afghanistan
  2. Prospects for the Afghan Government and international community to fund the development, operations, and sustainment of the ANSF
  3. Effectiveness of international security, governance, and development assistance
  4. Establishment of accounting and management controls for UN coordination of international efforts
  5. Ability of NGOs to operate independently and freely
  6. Status of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan
  7. Status of relations between Afghanistan and its other neighbors


Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics

Writing in Joint Force Quarterly, Adm. Michael G. Mullen critiques the U.S. government's approach to winning hearts and minds.

It is time for us to take a harder look at "strategic communication."

Frankly, I don't care for the term. We get too hung up on that word, strategic. If we've learned nothing else these past 8 years, it should be that the lines between strategic, operational, and tactical are blurred beyond distinction. This is particularly true in the world of communication, where videos and images plastered on the Web -- or even the idea of their being so posted --can and often do drive national security decisionmaking.

But beyond the term itself, I believe we have walked away from the original intent. By organizing to it -- creating whole structures around it -- we have allowed strategic communication to become a thing instead of a process, an abstract thought instead of a way of thinking. It is now sadly something of a cottage industry.

We need to get back to basics, and we can start by not beating ourselves up.

The problem isn't that we are bad at communicating or being outdone by men in caves. Most of them aren't even in caves. The Taliban and al Qaeda live largely among the people. They intimidate and control and communicate from within, not from the sidelines.

And they aren't just out there shooting videos, either. They deliver. Want to know what happens if somebody violates their view of Sharia law? You don't have to look very far or very long. Each beheading, each bombing, and each beating sends a powerful message or, rather, is a powerful message.

Got a governance problem? The Taliban is getting pretty effective at it. They've set up functional courts in some locations, assess and collect taxes, and even allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders. Part of the Taliban plan to win over the people in Swat was to help the poor or displaced own land. Their utter brutality has not waned, nor has their disregard for human life. But with each such transaction, they chip away at the legitimacy of the Afghan government, saying in effect: "We can give you the stability the government cannot."

No, our biggest problem isn't caves; it's credibility. Our messages lack credibility because we haven't invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven't always delivered on promises.

The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: "Will you really stay with us this time?" "Can we really count on you?" I tell them that we will and that they can, but when it comes to real trust in places such as these, I don't believe we are even in Year Zero yet. There's a very long way to go.

The irony here is that we know better. For all the instant polling, market analysis, and focus groups we employ today, we could learn a lot by looking to our own past. No other people on Earth have proven more capable at establishing trust and credibility in more places than we have. And we've done it primarily through the power of our example.

The voyage of the Great White Fleet told the world that the United States was no longer a second-rate nation. The Marshall Plan made it clear that our strength was only as good as it was shared. The policy of containment let it be known we wouldn't stand for the spread of communism. And relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters all over the world said calmly and clearly: we will help you through this.

We didn't need a public opinion poll to launch that fleet. We didn't need a "strat comm" plan to help rebuild Europe. And we sure didn't need talking points and Power-Point slides to deliver aid. Americans simply showed up and did the right thing because it was, well, the right thing to do.

That's the essence of good communication: having the right intent up front and letting our actions speak for themselves. We shouldn't care if people don't like us; that isn't the goal. The goal is credibility. And we earn that over time.

Now I'm not suggesting we stop planning to communicate or that we fail to factor in audience reaction, perceptions, or culture.

I recognize the information environment today is much more complex than it was in 1909, or even 1999. As someone who "tweets" almost daily, I appreciate the need to embrace the latest technologies.

But more important than any particular tool, we must know the context within which our actions will be received and understood. We hurt ourselves and the message we try to send when it appears we are doing something merely for the credit.

We hurt ourselves more when our words don't align with our actions. Our enemies regularly monitor the news to discern coalition and American intent as weighed against the efforts of our forces. When they find a "say-do" gap -- such as Abu Ghraib -- they drive a truck right through it. So should we, quite frankly. We must be vigilant about holding ourselves accountable to higher standards of conduct and closing any gaps, real or perceived, between what we say about ourselves and what we do to back it up.

In fact, I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don't follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.

And make no mistake -- there has been a certain arrogance to our "strat comm" efforts. We've come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect. They are not. Good communication runs both ways. It's not about telling our story. We must also be better listeners.

The Muslim community is a subtle world we don't fully -- and don't always attempt to -- understand. Only through a shared appreciation of the people's culture, needs, and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative. We cannot capture hearts and minds. We must engage them; we must listen to them, one heart and one mind at a time -- over time.

I'm a big fan of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. In fact, I had the opportunity this summer to help him open up a new school for girls in the Panjshir Valley. Greg believes that building relationships is just as important as building projects. "The enemy is ignorance," he told me, "and it isn't theirs alone. We have far more to learn from the people who live here than we could ever hope to teach them."

He's right. We are only going to be as good as our own learning curve. And just the simple act of trying, of listening to others, speaks volumes all by itself. I know strategic communication as a term of reference is probably here to stay. Regrettably, it's grown too much a part of our lexicon. But I do hope we take this opportunity under the coming Quadrennial Defense Review to reexamine what we mean by it. Strategic communication should be an enabling function that guides and informs our decisions and not an organization unto itself. Rather than trying to capture all communication activity underneath it, we should use it to describe the process by which we integrate and coordinate.

To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.

I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end -- or should be after -- are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can't get that in a talking point.

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