Sunday, February 19

U.S. military commanders, intelligence officials differ in interpretation of state of Afghan War

“Classically, intelligence is supposedly in the portion of the glass that's half empty, and operational commanders and policymakers, for that matter, are often in the portion of the glass that's half full. Probably the truth is somewhere at the water line."

U.S. intelligence officials offer grim words on Afghanistan
By Richard Leiby and Karen DeYoung
February 17, 2012
The Los Angles Times

WASHINGTON - Senior U.S. intelligence officials offered a bleak view of the war in Afghanistan in testimony to Congress on Thursday, an assessment they acknowledged was more pessimistic than that of the military commanders in charge.

“I would like to begin with current military operations in Afghanistan, where we assess that endemic corruption and persistent qualitative deficiencies in the army and police forces undermine efforts to extend effective governance and security,” Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual worldwide threat hearing.

The Afghan army remains reliant on U.S. and international forces for logistics, intelligence and transport, he said. And “despite successful coalition targeting, the Taliban remains resilient and able to replace leadership losses while also competing to provide governance at the local level. From its Pakistani safe havens, the Taliban leadership remains confident of eventual victory.”

Burgess testified alongside James Clapper, director of national intelligence, who said that the Taliban lost ground in the last year, “but that was mainly in places where the International Security Assistance Forces, or ISAF, were concentrated, and Taliban senior leaders continued to enjoy safe haven in Pakistan.” Clapper was asked by committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) about reports in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere describing a recent National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan that questioned whether the Afghan government would survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.

The gloomy findings prompted a sharp one-page dissent by Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the commander of Western forces in the war, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. The comment was also signed by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Without going into the specifics of classified National Intelligence Estimates, I can certainly confirm that they took issue with the NIE on three counts, having to do with the assumptions that were made about force structure -- didn't feel that we gave sufficient weight to Pakistan and its impact as a safe haven, and generally felt that the NIE was pessimistic,” Clapper said.

Levin asked, “Pessimistic about that or about other matters as well?”

Clapper replied, “Just generally it was pessimistic” about the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for a U.S. drawdown in 2014.

Clapper, who has served nearly half a century around U.S. intelligence, argued that it was only natural for intelligence analysts to see things differently than ground commanders in a war.

“If you'll forgive a little history, sir,” he said, “I served as an analyst briefer for Gen. [William] Westmoreland in Vietnam in 1966. I kind of lost my professional innocence a little bit then when I found out that operational commanders sometimes don't agree with their view of the success of their campaign as compared to and contrasted with that perspective displayed by intelligence.

"Fast-forward about 25 years or so and I served as the chief of Air Force intelligence during Desert Storm," he said. "Gen. Schwarzkopf protested long and loud all during the war and after the war about the accuracy of the intelligence. In fact, it didn't comport with his view.”

“Classically, intelligence is supposedly in the portion of the glass that's half empty, and operational commanders and policymakers, for that matter, are often in the portion of the glass that's half full," he said. "Probably the truth is somewhere at the water line. So I don't find it a bad thing. In fact, I think it's healthy that there is contrast between what the operational commanders believe and what the intelligence community assesses.”


Madhu said...


That's a lovely analogy that you've highlighted.

I suppose all the negotiations over the size of the ANA, the type of advisory mission, NATO funding, etc., represents trying to reach the correct water level. Or something.

Looking forward to your next essay.

(Is Secretary Clinton going to be the next World Bank President? How interesting, especially in light of State's new business and corporate push....)

Pundita said...

Madhu - Yes, it's a great analogy to convey the two institutional POVs. Re Clinton -- she says she doesn't want the job. If she's sincere about wanting to focus exclusively on helping women, women's rights, after she leaves State she'd be wise to stay away from the top position at the Bank because it demands attention to many areas. Ditto for any position at the UN.

As to where she would go -- maybe to start a foundation. I've never heard her broach the idea but she's now got so much power, her own foundation would be formidable. It would quickly attract huge donations and rival the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for international clout.

We'll just have to see. I know she's eager to get away from the Obama administration so I don't see her staying with State even if Obama returned to the WH.