Friday, March 8, 2013

No Way To Fight A War

I have mixed emotions about this article.

Coalition to Stop Reporting Attack Data
The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan said it would no longer count and publish the number of Taliban attacks, an accounting it once touted as the measure of U.S. and allied success.

The move comes one week after the International Security Assistance Force said it had incorrectly reported a 7% fall in Taliban attacks in 2012 compared with 2011. In fact, there was no decline, ISAF officials said, attributing the mistake to a clerical error.

An ISAF spokesman said Tuesday that the coalition had lost confidence in reporting of enemy-initiated attacks mainly because more combat operations were being performed by Afghan forces, out of view of coalition troops. Most attacks occur in less-populated areas, meaning "this single facet of the campaign is not particularly accurate in describing the complete effect of the insurgency's violence on the people of Afghanistan," he said.
Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it had been clear for months that ISAF's figures were flawed.

"The truth is they should not have published them in the first place," he said. "A great many people realized from the start that it was a meaningless measurement" because it implies that in order to succeed the Taliban has to keep attacking rather than gaining ground by influencing ordinary Afghans...
(more detail here)

First of all, the "incorrectly reported" decline in Taliban attacks was attributed to a "clerical error."

That one doesn't pass the smell test.

But what is more disturbing to me is the (to be charitable) 'confusion' over the metric used to measure progress in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. It's awfully reminiscent of the measure used in 'Nam - the body count.

I am definitely not saying that U.S. forces in Vietnam deliberately targeted civilians. But I will suggest that, in the aftermath of artillery barrages and air strikes, any 'collateral damage' (i.e., dead body) was by definition a VC. And any damaged bicycle or dead water buffalo was a 'destroyed enemy transportation vehicle.'

It is a truism that "What gets measured gets managed." More completely, "What gets measured gets managed - even when it's pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so."

In other words, if body count, or enemy attacks, are used as a measure of success, military 'managers' will adopt tactics and strategies that maximize those results. In some instances that might even include 'managing' the reported numbers.

That's no way to fight a war...

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