New National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan not optimistic

A new National Intellligence Estimate on Afghanistan is reportedly not optimistic about the future course of events in Afghanistan, as U.S. and other ISAF forces withdraw by 2014. The Los Angeles Times reports,

Reporting from Washington — The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.

The NIE represents the consensus views of the CIA and 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies, and is similar in tone to a similar report issued a year ago. Pentagon and military leaders issued dissenting views.

Military and Pentagon officials argued that assumptions used by intelligence agencies were flawed.

“It assumes a quicker drawdown of U.S. support to the Afghan government than a lot of people are projecting, ” said one U.S. official familiar with Pentagon thinking, speaking of the assessment.

Military officials also cited what they claim are gaps in the intelligence agencies’ understanding of the Taliban leadership’s thinking, the officials said.

A one page written dissent was signed by Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and ISAF forces in the war, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, Gen. James Mattis, commander of Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander NATO.

Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, “U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate: The sobering judgments in a classified National Intelligence Estimate appear at odds with recent optimistic statements about the war by Pentagon officials,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2012.

See also Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef, “Intelligence report: Taliban still hope to rule Afghanistan,” McClatchy Newspapers, January 11, 2012.

Judging from news reports, the military’s dissent had all the hallmarks of a command response to an external threat to the military and its strategy in Afghanistan–the NIE.

Among the key points in the NIE are the fact that “incompetent governance” and “pervasive corruption” remain huge problems, along with the use of sanctuaries in Pakistan. These fundamental failings are not driven by the Taliban leadership’s thinking. Indeed, the reverse is likely to be the case.

What makes the Obama administration think they can negotiate their way out of Afghanistan?

Progress on the ground appears increasingly tenuous in terms of continuing to “hold” ground won by U.S. troops as those troops withdraw, while no significant progress appears to have been made on the governance and corruption fronts.

Indeed, what makes the U.S. think it can negotiate an acceptable exit when the Taliban know U.S. and ISAF forces are leaving?

The answer to that question appears to lie in a rapidly evolving understanding of what would be an “acceptable” mess to leave behind.

The Trenchant Observer

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"The Trenchant Observer" is an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas, and who has also been a visiting professor at the University of Costa Rica Law Faculty in San José. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, the Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.) from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) in International Law from Harvard University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, the Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.