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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