What the numbers say about progress in Afghanistan

by CNN National Security Supervising Producer Adam Levine

Washington (CNN) – American support for the war in Afghanistan has never been lower, according to the latest CNN polling. The low numbers just the latest figure in the complex math being calculated to determine how the US should proceed in the ten year war.

The latest poll from CNN and Opinion Research Corporation found only 37% of all Americans favor the war, 52% say the war in Afghanistan has turned into a Vietnam.

Those numbers are going down as US commitment to the war is going up, significantly. 30,000 more troops added this year. At the time the troop increase was announced, military leaders were aware it would mean a rise in troop casualties and were vocal in trying to warn Americans that it would happen.

Still the daily headlines about troop deaths is staggering. 16 NATO troops have been killed in the last three days. The US has lost 386 troops so far this year.

Modern war is about metrics (and Powerpoint). The numbers right now suggest that the surge in troops has, not surprisingly, led to a surge in offensives. Last month there were 700 airstrikes, according to Air Force data obtained by National Security producer Jennifer Rizzo. A year ago only 257 strikes were logged.

More numbers: In the last 90 days NATO forces have killed 300 senior Taliban and insurgent leaders and commanders, as well as 800 fighters and detained 2,000 more, a senior military official in Afghanistan told Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

It's that balance between perceived progress and deadly setback that the administration will begin considering first this December when the strategy is reviewed and then again next year ahead of the July 2011 deadline President Barack Obama set to begin withdrawing the increased troops.
That date – July 2011 – has many wondering if the ultimate calculus is about a number that is more important in the US than Afghanistan – the number 2012.

The new strategy for Afghanistan appears tailored with that date in mind. When the president announced more troops, he made sure to indicate that the government would begin to drawdown the troop surge by July 2011.

Critics said the July date was more to ensure being able to say the troops are coming home come election time, than a reasonable timeframe to expect progress.

But for all the investment of lives and money, the war is not registering with Americans. At least not while the numbers in everyone's bank accounts are a preoccupation. In a September poll by CNN and Opinion Research, only 9% of respondents thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the most important problem facing the country, 49% thought the economy mattered most.