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Campaign assessments help decisionmakers in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and the executive branch shape what tend to be difficult and lengthy counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns. Assessment informs critical decisions, including the allocation of resources and major shifts in strategy. The complex and chaotic environment of the typical COIN campaign presents vexing challenges to assessment, and efforts to overcome these challenges are mired in an overreliance on aggregated quantitative data that are often inaccurate and misleading. This comprehensive examination of COIN assessment as practiced through early 2011, as described in the literature and doctrine, and as applied in two primary case studies (Vietnam and Afghanistan), reveals weaknesses and gaps in this centralized, quantitative approach. The author proposes an alternative process — contextual assessment — that accounts for the realities of the COIN environment and the needs of both policymakers and commanders. Since this manuscript was completed in mid-2011, various elements of DoD have published new doctrine on assessment, some of which addresses criticisms raised in this report. The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has also revamped its assessment process.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Concepts That Shape Counterinsurgency Assessment

  • Chapter Three

    Centralized Assessment Theory and Pattern and Trend Analysis

  • Chapter Four

    The Effects-Based Approach to Assessment

  • Chapter Five

    Choosing Core Metrics

  • Chapter Six

    Vietnam-Era Assessment

  • Chapter Seven

    Assessment in Afghanistan

  • Chapter Eight

    Why Does Centralized Assessment Fail in Counterinsurgency?

  • Chapter Nine

    Conclusions, Recommendations, and Options

  • Chapter Ten

    A Proposed Alternative to Centralized Assessment

  • Appendix A

    Contextual Assessment Template

  • Appendix B

    Notional Example of a Brigade/Regimental-Level Contextual Assessment

  • Appendix C

    Phong Dinh Province Report

  • Appendix D

    Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Military Assessment, September 1967

  • Appendix E

    Debate over Effects-Based Operations

The research described in this report was prepared for the U.S. Government. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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