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New benchmarks being set for Afghan war, sources say

WASHINGTON — 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 Barack Obama are working. They cover both 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 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 condition of anonymity.

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

In writing the Afghan benchmarks, Obama advisers say they want to measure not only what gets done but how well and on what schedule. The reports will be submitted quarterly.

Civilian 'surge' is part of general's plan

In addition to requesting 45,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal will ask the Obama administration to double the number of U.S. government civilian workers to about 1,000. The proposed civilian "surge" is the fourth leg of McChrystal's strategy to rebuild Afghanistan, along with more U.S. troops, more Afghan security forces and closer cooperation between the two. The request will be part of a 60-day assessment of the strategy in Afghanistan.

Poll favors Karzai in presidential race

A survey released Monday shows President Hamid Karzai with a substantial lead before the presidential election Aug. 20. The poll shows Karzai with 36 percent support among all the voters surveyed. His closest competitor — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah — has 20 percent support. Karzai said Monday that if he is re-elected he will invite Taliban and other militants to a grand tribal council — but said they would have to lay down their weapons first.

New benchmarks being set for Afghan war, sources say 08/10/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 10, 2009 11:05pm]
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