- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - With the White House preparing a sweeping new strategy for Afghanistan, a senior military commander said Tuesday that U.S. officials will need to set benchmarks for progress in the war, as they did in Iraq.

Gen. John Craddock, the top NATO commander, warned Congress that he has been stymied in his effort to find ways to gauge progress in Afghanistan, adding that key benchmarks should assess security improvements, governance and development.

President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday that the U.S. will “stay on the offensive” to dismantle terrorist operations in the central Asian country. The final strategy recommendations are still under wraps, but they are expected to call for a boost in combat troops and a steep increase in civilian experts to beat back the growing insurgency, beefing up Afghan security forces and bolstering fragile local and national governments.

The much-anticipated roadmap will stress that military might alone cannot win the war, and that any strategy must include a stronger partnership with Pakistan to tame the ungoverned border region.

“Right now, our assessments of progress are anecdotal, and they vary daily, weekly, with whoever makes the observation and where they are when they make them,” Craddock told the Senate Armed Services Committee.



Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., agreed that objective benchmarks are critical, “so we don’t get into the position where we were in Iraq of having one person saying we’re winning, another person saying we’re losing.”

Craddock conceded that when he tried to set metrics to measure success, “the task was overwhelming.” He said he has brought in help from NATO and expects to get his first report next month.

Under the administration’s emerging strategy, Afghan security forces could grow to as many as 400,000 _ more than double the current total. At the same time, several hundred civilians from various U.S. agencies _ from agronomists to economists and legal experts _ would be deployed to reinforce the nonmilitary component in Kabul and the existing provincial reconstruction teams in the countryside, officials said.

The military, meanwhile, would expand its counterinsurgency fight, in an effort to secure the far-flung villages, particularly in the south where the Taliban’s roots are strong.

There will also be a growing push for Pakistan to eliminate the swath of insurgent sanctuaries tucked along its mountainous border.

Former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb said Tuesday that the administration must move quickly to address the situation in Afghanistan because the U.S. is not only losing the campaign but also American public support for it.

Korb, now with the Center for American Progress think tank, said in a phone conference that the military must adopt a counterinsurgency strategy primarily focused on the south, and that the effort will require the full 30,000 troop increase requested by commanders, not just the additional 17,000 approved so far by Obama.

According to the think tank’s new report, the U.S. must distinguish between short-term, intermediate and long-term goals, with the short-term being stifling the insurgency and the ultimate objective being helping create a resilient Afghan state.

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Associated Press reporters Pauline Jelinek and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.

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