The last question that needs to be answered as concerns the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam is why we are not pursuing a campaign of territorial conquest. In Vietnam, the U.S. did not seek to gain and maintain control of territory; rather they sought to combat only the military forces of the insurgents. That is why the now legendary “body countâ€ was so important in Vietnam. The same thing is not happening in Afghanistan, at least to the extent that the “body countâ€ is important. The metric I see being used to determine progress in Afghanistan in place of the “body countâ€ is tracking how many attacks occur within delineated sectors of territory. This metric is probably just as useless in determining victory or progress, as was the body count. So many factors go into determining how many attacks occur in a given region that the actual number of attacks is meaningless.
What seems to be missing in coalition thought is the notion that the enemy has a vote. Enemy goals and strategy impact numbers of attacks more than any coalition activity. That is the main reason why I think tracking attacks is Useless as an indicator of progress.
I would submit that by tracking attacks in a given region the U.S. is falling into the same trap that they did with tracking “body countâ€ in Vietnam. Both are metrics that seem objective at first but with further analysis are anything but and are affected by so many factors outside of coalition or friendly forces control that they are in fact rendered meaningless except as cool numbers to put into briefing slides. There is no doubt that these metrics make for nice graphics but for practical purposes, they tell U.S. nothing.
The proper method marking progress to me would be to measure concrete progress on the ground by tracking multiple metrics of things to which the insurgents are inimical. These items could include average school attendance (especially by girls), voting patterns, commerce patterns, tax receipts, corruption, and the implementation of democratic reforms in general. All these are things that are impacted by the security situation. They are also things that to ensure require an almost continuous. presence of coalition forces or at least effective indigenous. troops. The sad truth is that because of available forces coalition troops cannot be everywhere they are needed and afghan troops are unreliable at best and part of the problem at worst.
The main thing constrains allied troop numbers is politics in the country of origin. Many countries will not contribute more and those troops they do contribute are often limited in what they can do. This leaves the U.S. and a few other countries bearing the major burden of combat and many coalition countries forces are actually in the position of absorbing logistical supplies while contributing little if anything to the actual pacification of Afghanistan.
In summary, the war in Afghanistan is not lost, nor are coalition forces losing it. At the same time they are not winning it either. The reasons for this are both political and military and it will take a political and military solution to make the war in Afghanistan anything other than a bleeding sore that will not heal.