- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Obama administration is preparing a set of about 50 benchmarks for Afghanistan, senior officials said Monday, redefining how to measure success in a war now widely assessed as a stalemate.

The benchmarks will test how well the U.S. military and civilian “surges” ordered by President Obama are working. They cover Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The new measures, ordered by Congress, are due Sept. 24 amid creeping skepticism among many Democrats about the war’s prognosis and costs.

“The deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan is conspicuous,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a report to be released this week. The report notes a record number of U.S. soldiers and Marines died in Afghanistan last month.

“The coming months will test the administration’s deepening involvement, its new strategy on counternarcotics specifically and its counterinsurgency effort in general,” the senators wrote. “Some observers fear that the moment for reversing the tide in Afghanistan has passed and even a narrow victory will remain out of reach, despite the larger American footprint.”

The Afghanistan benchmarks will be more detailed than the Iraq war scorecard used by the George W. Bush administration, a senior administration official said Monday. The White House is circulating a classified version among key lawmakers, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the unreleased document.

The old Iraq yardsticks had an all-or-nothing quality - either the Iraqi government passed a law governing oil resources or it didn’t. Many of those tests remain unmet, even as the war there has subsided and U.S. forces prepare to leave.

In writing the Afghan version, Obama advisers say they want to look more broadly, measuring not only what gets done but how well and on what schedule. The benchmarks will include short- and long-term goals. Some will probably be flagged by color - red for things going poorly, green for those going well, the official said.

The reports will be submitted quarterly, with three or four due ahead of the unofficial deadline for measurable progress - 12 to 18 months - outlined by Mr. Obama and his top defense advisers this summer.

Separately, the newly installed top U.S. general in Afghanistan is preparing an interim assessment that is expected to be a sober accounting of the difficulties of fighting an entrenched and technically capable insurgency eight years into the war.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is expected to identify shortfalls that should be filled by more forces - perhaps a mix of Afghan, NATO and U.S. Any recommendations for more U.S. forces would come through Gen. McChrystal’s boss, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Estimates of the additions Gen. McChrystal might recommend range from a few thousand to more than 20,000. Gen. McChrystal’s predecessor had already asked for an additional 10,000 for next year, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other top officials made it known they are skeptical.

“We believe that with the strategy and the assets and the infusion of resources, that we’re going to be able to achieve our goals,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said Monday.

There are 62,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 allied forced in Afghanistan, on top of about 175,000 Afghan soldiers and police. Some NATO countries plan to withdraw their troops in the next few years, even as the United States expands its presence.

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