Posted By Thomas E. Ricks
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 4:19 AM
Next in his essay on what
works in counterinsurgency, what doesn't, and how to tell the crucial
difference, David Kilcullen turns to the question of measuring the
performance of the host government.
Significantly, this is a long section. That's appropriate, I
think, because the single biggest problem we face in Afghanistan isn't how to
contain the Taliban, it is how to alter the rapacious behavior of the Karzai
"Assassination and kidnapping rate." Well duh, I hear you
say. But the devil is in the details. Don't just look at high level officials.
Track the sub-district governors, mayors and police chiefs. Are they getting
killed? Are they just quitting? These may be indicators of a concerted
insurgent push, he warns. But stability and lack of violence might not
necessarily be a good indicator, because, he adds, if the area also has a low
rate of voluntary reporting, it may be "an enemy district that is stable under
"Civilian accessibility." Can government officials move
around without an escort? Do local people avoid a given area? Even if there are
not high levels of violence, this may indicate insurgent control.
"Where local officials sleep." I really like this one
because it is so simple, but it never occurred to me. In fact, I have never
seen it listed before in works on metrics in warfare. But it makes sense. DK
writes that, "A large proportion of Afghan government officials currently do
not sleep in the districts for which they are responsible." He recommends
looking into whether they fear for their safety, or perhaps are outsiders not
really welcome in the districts. Both reasons are important, but have far
different significance for your operations.
"Officials' business interests." Map them out, he says.
The locals know about them, and you should make it your job to do so also. For
example, he says, when there is violence against a local construction company
working on an aid project, does a local official own a rival company? More
insidiously, he offers the example of an official who engages enthusiastically
in opium crop eradication, but has his own opium fields elsewhere. He may
simply be eliminating the competition. Try to compile and regularly update a
"register of officials' assets" -- and keep it in mind as you try to understand
violent incidents in a given area.
"Percentage of officials purchasing their positions." This
is a warning sign. The more people are buying official positions, the higher
the likely rate of corruption will be, as they have to re-pay their funders or
recoup their investments, and so the more likely that abused locals will play
ball with the Taliban.
"Budget execution." Dull
But Important, as I said the other day about another article on
Afghanistan. Be careful of using CERP funds a quick fix to get around budget
roadblocks-you may just be cementing in those roadblocks. Think beyond the
length of your rotation, and consider whether your fixes are going to make life
harder for your successor.
"Capital flight." This is as close as Kilcullen comes to
criticizing the Obama Administration. During the Great Afghan Policy Dither of
2009 (my phrase, not his), he notes, "we saw millions of dollars leaving the
country on a weekly basis."
"Rate of anti-insurgent lashkar formation." Another
novel observation and metric. Kilcullen says these local militias tend to be
indicators of districts that distrust both the government and the Taliban and
are going autarkical.
safety function." Do the locals call the Taliban's 911 line (they effectively
have them, he writes, and that is news to me) or the government's?