If so, that’s cynical. No one knows better than Petraeus that body counts are a misleading metric for judging progress against an insurgency. Look at territory reclaimed from insurgents; the ability of the Afghan government to dispense material and legal services at reclaimed territory; the performance of Afghan security forces — all of these are more reliable measurements of progress or failure than insurgents taken off the board, because the insurgency has proven its ability to replenish its ranks.
It may be true that kill-or-captures is a more intuitive measurement. That doesn’t make it a reliable one. And putting out an unreliable measurement will only deepen — justifiably — people’s sense that they’re being misled about the war. And it’s hardly just Petraeus and not just Afghanistan. When White House adviser John Brennan brags about inflicting “severe blows against the leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates” through drone strikes, the Obama administration replicates its predecessor’s blandishments about taking out two-thirds of al-Qaeda’s known leadership. And yet, as Brennan knows — it’s the premise of his May CSIS speech! — the al-Qaeda threat mutates away from central direction, as the rise of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula indicates.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran has an excellent piece, for instance, about lingering British and American differences in Helmand over how enemy-centric to be. That’s an indicator of persistent incoherence in Afghanistan. If there’s an enemy-centric metric worth examining, it’s how Pakistani sponsors of the insurgency compel insurgents to give up the fight and sue for peace; and what U.S. efforts, military and diplomatic, contribute to a negotiated end to the war. Then it’s on to instantiate the “destroy, dismantle and defeat” endgame for al-Qaeda. If the Obama administration is holding out body counts of al-Q “leaders,” it’s a tacit admission it doesn’t know how to get where it wants to go.