U.S. Assembles Metrics to Weigh Progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, seen meeting with residents in Afghanistan in June, is readying a strategic assessment.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, seen meeting with residents in Afghanistan in June, is readying a strategic assessment. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.

Administration officials are conducting what one called a "test run" of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories -- including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources -- with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.

Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of "clear benchmarks" and no "blank check."

Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising U.S. and NATO casualty rates, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict. An upcoming assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new military commander in Afghanistan, is expected to lay the groundwork for requests for additional U.S. troop deployments in 2010.

The administration's concern about waning public support and the war's direction has been compounded by strains in the U.S. relationship with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Facing their own public opinion problems, both appear increasingly resentful of U.S. demands for improved performance in the face of what they see as insufficient American support.

At a dinner in Kabul with Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for the region, and retired Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, after the Aug. 20 presidential election, President Hamid Karzai made clear his displeasure that the administration did not endorse his candidacy or his claimed victory, according to one U.S. participant.

The participant denied media reports that the dinner had erupted into a shouting match but acknowledged that Karzai "may have been unhappy with the fact that the United States did not immediately congratulate him on his victory." Amid widespread reports of fraud, and with only a fraction of the vote tallied, Holbrooke told Karzai that the administration would wait for official results confirming that a candidate had won a majority or whether a runoff was needed before commenting.

"There is a pretty intense atmosphere in Kabul right now," said the participant, one of several senior officials who agreed to discuss the deteriorating war situation, and the evolving administration strategy, only on the condition of anonymity.

Relations with Pakistan have grown similarly tense, with complaints from Islamabad about the pace of deliveries of U.S. military equipment and rising resentment over congressional attempts to impose restrictions on its supply and use.

"We are fighting this war today," a senior Pakistani military official said in describing U.S. assistance as slow and stingy. "What good is it two years from now?"

That official and others said there have been long delays in the delivery of helicopters, night-vision equipment and other supplies requested for the army's ongoing offensive against Pakistan-based insurgents.

In recent interviews, civil and military officials in Pakistan drew a sharp contrast between the billions of dollars in assistance that George W. Bush's administration gave, with few strings attached, to then-President Pervez Musharraf -- a general who came to power in a military coup -- and what they see as efforts to condition assistance to the democratically elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

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