WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NATO has no reliable way to assess its performance in the war in Afghanistan even as the United States prepares to announce the results of an Afghan strategy review, the alliance’s top commander said on Tuesday.
U.S. Army General John Craddock, NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, also told a U.S. Senate panel that some NATO members had the capacity to commit more troops to the war but would not do so for political reasons.
President Barack Obama has said the United States is not winning in Afghanistan, more than seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government. A U.S. official said the strategy review is expected to be made public on Friday.
Craddock said his headquarters had tried to find ways to measure factors, such as security and the effectiveness of Afghan authorities, but the task had proven “overwhelming”.
“Right now, our assessments of progress are anecdotal and they vary daily, weekly, with whoever makes the observation and where they are making them,” Craddock told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I could not agree more that we must have objective metrics,” he told Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat who has called for the Obama administration to draw up a series of benchmarks to measure progress in Afghanistan.
“We have to find a metric that tells us whether or not more or less of the country is secure,” Craddock said.
“Right now, it’s based upon incidents,” he said. “Gunfire in a bazaar counts the same as a suicide bomber killing 13 people. That’s not correct.”
He said NATO should also track whether Afghans thought their local and national governments were a positive factor in their lives and try to measure economic development in what is one of the world’s poorest countries.
“The fact of the matter is there are more databases on developmental issues that are not integrated or coordinated than you can shake a stick at,” he said. “We’ve got to bring that together.”
The United States has for years called on its NATO partners to provide more troops for the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in a bid to tackle rising violence from the Taliban and other insurgents.
“There is a risk aversion in NATO that we must continue to address, and push nations,” Craddock said.
Craddock said he spoke frequently to the top military officers in allied nations about the Afghan mission.
“Generally, they want to contribute. They feel they have the ability, the capability. But politically they are constrained,” he said, adding he believed this was because they were constrained by public opposition to the mission.
The United States has some 38,000 troops in Afghanistan while other nations, mainly NATO members like Canada, contribute about 30,000.
In recent months, the United States has focused less on asking for more troops and instead requested additional help with civilian tasks needed to stabilize Afghanistan.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham