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"The US Military is working hard to understand the key issues and it makes sense that they are analyzing the situation rigorously with a variety of methods." 


Home Afghanistan causal diagrams

Afghanistan causal diagrams

Afghanistan causal diagrams covered incorrectly by a variety of media

A few detailed diagrams used by the US Military highlighting key dynamics in Afghanistan have been cited by several media sources, with many incorrect assumptions and descriptions. Since PA Consulting Group was involved in this work and media misstatements are continuing, we are providing some basic background on the origins and use of these materials. 

Analyzing dynamics in Afghanistan

In 2009, PA worked with US military officers to analyze the dynamics and challenges in Afghanistan, as one of many inputs to support those involved in planning and strategy. This effort built on previous relevant PA work and integrated a wide range of research and analysis from other sources. A variety of briefing materials and analyses were developed to provide planners with a structured approach to help review options and potential secondary effects. The effort included development of detailed diagrams of cause-and-effect dynamics using an approach called system dynamics. One of the officers involved briefed the work in theater. It was found to be helpful by several senior officers and thus the materials were briefed more widely. 

The causal diagram

After one of the wider briefings last year, a few detailed diagrams were shared by an attendee with a reporter. The materials did not provide much context or introduction and were highly detailed causal diagrams intended for planners. For those immersed in the issues on a daily basis, these provided a helpful reference. The diagrams were not intended to stand alone, nor designed for a broad audience, and even for the planners were introduced and built up gradually, with a poster-sized version used as a reference. An attendee noted that despite media portrayal of this as a single highly complicated chart, the chart was developed in an hour-long 'build' reviewing complex dynamics in Afghanistan, and was useful learning for participants.


The situation in Afghanistan is complex. Not surprisingly, detailed diagrams of a complicated situation that are developed for use by those immersed in the issues may be confusing to broader audiences, especially when shown out of context. The US Military is working hard to understand the key issues and it makes sense that they are analyzing the situation rigorously with a variety of methods to support evaluation of potential strategies.

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