Afghanistan by the Numbers: Measuring a War Gone to Hell
Continued from previous page
The Vietnam War was a classic metrics war. Sometimes it seemed that Americans in Vietnam did nothing but invent new ways of measuring success. There were, for instance, the eighteen indices of the Hamlet Evaluation System, each meant to calibrate the "progress" of "pacification" in South Vietnam's 2,300 villages and almost 13,000 hamlets, focusing largely on "rural security" and "development." Then there were the many indices of the Measurement of Progress system, its monthly reports, produced in slide form, including "strength trends of the opposing forces, efforts of friendly forces in sorties... enemy base areas neutralized," and so on. For visiting congressional delegations, the commander of U.S. forces, Gen. William Westmoreland, had his "attrition charts," multicolored bar graphs illustrating various "trends" in death and destruction. Commanders in the field had their own sophisticated ways to codify "kill ratios," while on the ground, where the actual counting had to be done in dangerous circumstances, all of this translated far more crudely into the MGR, or, as the grunts sometimes said, the "Mere Gook Rule" -- "If it's dead and it's Vietnamese, it's VC [Vietcong]." In other words, when pressure came down for the "body count," any body would do.
The problem was that none of the official metrics managed to measure what mattered most in Vietnam. History may not simply repeat itself, but there's good reason to look askance at whatever set of metrics the Obama administration manages to devise. After all, as in the Vietnam years, Obama's people, too, will be mustering numbers in search of "success"; they, too, will be measuring "progress." And those numbers -- like the Vietnam era body counts -- will have to come up from below (with all the attendant pressures). By the time they reach Washington, they are likely to have the best possible patina on them.
With the delivery of those new metrics to Congress seemingly imminent, I thought I might offer my own set of Afghan metrics for the worst year of the present war. Think of this as basic math for Americans. (All figures cited below are linked to their sources. If a figure has no link, just click on the nearest previous link.)
Annual funding for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002: $20.8 billion.
Annual funding for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2009: $60.2 billion.
Total funds for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002-2009: $228.2 billion.
War-fighting funds requested by the Obama administration for 2010: $68 billion (a figure which will, for the first time since 2003, exceed funds requested for Iraq).
Funds recently requested by U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry for non-military spending in Afghanistan, 2010: $2.5 billion.
Funds spent since 2001 on Afghan "reconstruction": $38 billion ("more than half of it on training and equipping Afghan security forces").
Percentage of U.S. funding in Afghanistan that has gone for military purposes: Nearly 90%.
Estimated U.S. funds needed to support and upgrade Afghan forces for the next decade: $4 billion a year ("with a like sum for development") according to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West. (According to the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon, "It's a reasonable guess that for 20 years, we essentially will have to fund half the Afghan budget.")
Afghan gross national product: $23 billion ( "the size of Boise" Idaho's, writes columnist George Will) -- about $3 billion of it from opium production.
Annual budget of the Afghan government: $600 million.
Maintenance cost for the force of 450,000 Afghan soldiers and police U.S. generals dream of creating: approximately 500% of the Afghan budget.