Posts Tagged ‘General’

New National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan not optimistic

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

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

The smartest person in the room, and the Afghanistan policy review

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Continuing Reflections on “the Smartest Person in the Room”

In a previous article, we offered some observations on the report that President Obama always considers himself to be the smartest person in any room.

See “Is Obama the Smartest Person in the Room?” October 22, 2010

This is a theme worth pursuing, for it touches on the issue of the hubris of the Obama administration, which grates even on some of the president’s strongest supporters.

Some 35 years ago, Richard C. Holbrooke, currently President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, offered a few insights into the issue of “the smartest person in the room.”

See Richard C. Holbrooke, “The smartest man in the room,” Harper’s Magazine, June, 1975.

Wrote Holbrooke,

In a similar instance, reported by Stewart Alsop, a senior CIA official who regularly briefed Defense Secretary McNamara on Indochina, using all the statistics and data compiled by the Pentagon, suddenly asked McNamara if he could offer a personal observation. When McNamara agreed, according to Alsop, the official said that he had spent much of his life working on Southeast Asia and, yes, he knew that the statistics showed that we were winning but that somehow, deep down in his bones, he just didn’t feel comfortable with all those signs of progress. Deep down he felt that things were rotten. McNamara asked for reasons, data, empirical evidence. The official couldn’t give any, he said; it was just a feeling, McNamara thanked him for his comments, dismissed him, and asked the CIA to send over another briefer.

Briefing someone that smart could be very difficult…People who had important things to say were cut off in mid-thought because they were not articulate enough to frame their thoughts in the precise, logical, bright way that was desired, if not required.

But sometimes the slower-speaking, less smart person was right; sometimes the smart ones were wrong. So finally it started to become clear: the smartest man in the room is not always right.

Worth noting is that Holbrooke is apparently not among the president’s favorite advisers.

Bob Woodward in Obama’s Wars reports, ” It wasn’t until well into the Obama presidency that Holbrooke learned definitively how much the president didn’t care for him.” Woodward recounts how Holbrooke had asked hiim to call him “Richard” instead of ” Dick”, which Obama told others he found “unusual” and even “strange”. (p. 211) One might equally note that mortifying a key adviser is a bit unusual and strange as well.

Earlier in the book Woodward quotes Vice-President Joe Biden as telling Obama, “He’s the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met, but maybe the right guy for the job.” (p. 72)

Reading Obama’s Wars, one comes away with the impression that the strategic review of Afghanistan policy was managed by a president who thought he was the smartest person in the room, and who conducted the meetings he attended in a tense and formal manner which did not encourage genuine debate.

Weeks were spent discussing whether the mission of the allies and the additional forces requested by General Stanley McChrystal was to be to “defeat” the Taliban, or to “degrade” the Taliban so they couldn’t overthrow the government in Kabul. The practical significance of this distinction, on the ground, appears to be at best dubious.

Very little attention, according to Woodward, was paid to the question of what was likely to happen in Afghanistan after the U.S. drew down its forces, and just what a negotiated settlement with the Taliban would lead to after ISAF forces had withdrawn.

This was not Bobby Kennedy leading the sessions of the Ex-Com set up by President John Kennedy to advise him during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Reading Woodward’s book, one is struck by the lack of discussion of how to handle the election fraud underway in Afghanistan, and of the full implications of sticking with Karzai. By not discussing this critical issue, and not having CIA Director Panetta or Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair present at the last meetings, a critical opportunity to change the dynamics of the governance game in Kabul was lost. This opportunity was right under their noses, so to speak, but–at least according to Woodward–not directly discussed.

Ambassador Eikenberry was absolutely rignt in pointing out in his cables that the Afghanistan policy review had a very narrow focus, and did not adequately take a wide range of considerations into account.

The way this policy review was managed by the president is troubling, and requires further reflection.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.


Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


–Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?
–The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as
does Abdullah
–Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections
–Final Thoughts
–ANNEX–Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai refusing to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission which certified the fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, prospects for a fair runoff election appear greatly diminished. Moreover, recent attacks on UN facilities in Kabul on October 28 and deteriorating security conditions elsewhere will now make it even more difficult for U.N. electoral officials and foreign observers to monitor the voting process. Seeing the U.S., NATO countries, and even the U.N. failing to take vigorous action to stop preparations for another fraud, some voters may conclude there is not much point in voting since the outcome is already clear. Against this background, it is quite possible that Abdullah will boycott the elections.

In any event, a second round election run by the same people who openly sanctioned the massive fraud in the first round cannot, and will not, produce credible results. A Karzai regime that is the product of fraudulent elections will not restore legitimacy to the government of Afghanistan.

But without a government seen as legitimate and offering real hope for meaningful change in the way the government operates, the advances of the Taliban are not likely to be halted.

What can be done, at this late hour?

The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as does Abdullah

1) The U.S., NATO and the U.N. can proceed in supporting a runoff election which appears to be headed again for massive fraud, and which will have no credibility. Karzai may indeed emerge as the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan, with the most powerful allies (the U.S., NATO, and the U.N.).

Western countries may well believe that the “legitimacy” questions will fade away, or can be overcome by building up a stronger government under Karzai’s direction and control. Detailed knowledge of the last five years of experience with Karzai and how numerous similar hopeful expectations have been dashed might temper such a view, but curiously resurgent optimism–or willful forgetfulness–obscures these facts from public debate.

On the other hand, maybe Karzai will build a new kind of government with the capabilities the U.S. and NATO view as so essential. All one can say, as Afghanistan slips increasingly under the sway of the Taliban, is that the evidence supporting this proposition is slim.

2) Abdullah withdraws, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will have an important role in the next (Karzai) administration

Abdullah could withdraw from the second round, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will be brought into the Karzai government with important posts. The key fact here is that Karzai will be calling the shots, for the next five years, and if he finds reason to revise any such understandings, there is nothing the Americans, NATO or the U.N. will be able to do about it. He will remain in control. They will remain dependent on him.

3) Abdullah withdraws or boycotts the runoff on the ground that the election is already tainted by fraud, because officials responsible for the fraud in the first round have not been replaced.

Abdullah would have strong arguments to support such a withdrawal, as the Independent Electoral Commission members who certified the first round fraud have not been replaced, and indeed appear to be preparing another massive fraud (e.g., by increasing the number of polling stations in the South). Under this scenario, a period of prolonged political uncertainty would be likely to ensue, further weakening the authority of the government in Kabul.

4) The United Nations could assume immediate control over the elections in Afghanistan, and postpone the second round if necessary.

A fourth option would be for the United Nations to intervene, acting under the authority of a Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter. Such resolutions have binding effect. This option would depend on gaining the affirmative vote or abstention of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They have worked in harmony on issues relating to Afghanistan in the past.

Given the utter disarray following the attacks on the U.N. guest houses in Kabul on October 28, and the practical impossibility of putting adequate security measures into place before November 7 that would allow U.N. personnel and European observers to actively deploy to assist in and observe the elections, the U.N. could well decide to postpone the second round until the spring.

Such an option would reassert the authority of the U.N. precisely at the moment when many expect it to withdraw or greatly curtail its activities in Afghanistan. In 2003, when the U.N. headquarters in Bagdad were blown up, killing a potential future Secretary General, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the world organization withdrew from the country. Assertion of a more vigorous U.N. role now would serve to counter that unfortunate precedent.

Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections

A number of advantages would flow from pursuing the fourth option.

First, the decision on U.S. strategy and the deployment of some 40,000-45,000 additional U.S. troops could be decoupled from the second round election results. Deployments could begin as quickly as feasible, without the delay that review of alleged fraud and decisions on complaints might entail. In the first round, this process took two months, and the ECC’s decision was accepted by Karzai only under extraordinary pressures from the U.S., NATO and the U.N.

Second, Karzai would be given a chance to demonstrate that he actually could strengthen his government, and both attack corruption and end any complicity in the drug trade. He might be persuaded to bring Abdullah into a “transitional ” national unity government. His own legal mandate, which expired in August, could be extended until the final results of the second round were in and a new government, based on those results, was formed.

Third, Abdullah would have an opportunity to make his case to the Afghan people that he should be elected President in a free and fair election. He would have time to do this, as would Karzai, in a more stable atmosphere and under electoral arrangements established by the U.N. that are transparent and fair. Indeed, elections run by the U.N. for president n 2004 and for the National Assembly in 2005 were widely viewed as fair.

Fourth, the United Nations could recover from the terrible attacks that cost the lives of five U.N. staff on October 28, and have time to fully develop and deploy the appropriate security arrangements in light of the fact U.N. staff are now being targeted by the Taliban. Many move about in unarmored vehicles and are soft and easy targets. The U.N. would have time to protect its staff more effectively, and avoid asking idealistic young workers–who did not volunteer to be soldiers–to risk their lives to carry out their tasks during the next few weeks.

Fifth, the U.S. and NATO could proceed with plans to increase the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan, not only to avoid the collapse of major cities to the Taliban but also to protect the Afghan population going to the polls in the runoff election, as well as the international observers that need to be deployed throughout the country to ensure that a fair vote is held.

Sixth, while there would be many challenges in pursuing such an option, the payoff would be big–a government viewed by the population as the product of a fair electoral process, and therefore a government that represents them.

Final Thoughts

Many officials and observers assume that Afghanistan’s future will inevitably be like its past, with power controlled by warlords and tribes on a local basis. However, the world has changed and is changing, and the rate of change is accelerating. 44.5% of the population of Afghanistan is 14 years old or younger. They hold the key to the country’s future.

The future of younger Afghans, with cell phones and internet access, will not be like that of the past. The number of internet users in the country, 500,000 in 2008, is growing rapidly, as is that of cell phones. In 2008, there were 460,000 main line telephones and 8.45 million cell phones, in a country of 28.4 million inhabitants. The number of television satellite dishes is growing. Afghanistan is getting connected, and Afghans are becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the world. Surely they observed the three million people who clogged Tehran’s streets following the June 12 elections in Iran, which were also characterized by massive fraud. Afghans and Iranians speak the same language, and share the same cultural heritage. Educated Pashtuns speak Dari as a second language, and Dari is the first language of 50% of the country. Dari is a dialect of Farsi, and educated speakers understand each other easily. Afghans know what is going on in Iran, and vice versa.

We should not be so condescending or naive as to believe that international human rights have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, including the leading elites. The United States insists on absolute fidelity to democratic forms in Honduras, fosters the new democracies of West Africa, supports the democratic government of Pakistan, and proclaims its democratic ideals in President Obama’s speech to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo. Still, American decision makers should never forget that people in the region and around the world are not only listening to what they say, but also watching what they do.

The Trenchant Observer
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Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, should adopt at the earliest opportunity a binding resolution which provides, inter alia, the following:

1. The United Nations, acting through the Security Council, shall immediately assume direction and control of the timing and conduct of the second round in the Presidential elections in Afghanistan, which are currently scheduled for November 7, 2009.

2. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, shall replace the current Afghan members of the Independent Electoral Commission with international elections experts of outstanding and unquestionable qualifications, impartiality and integrity.

3. The reconstituted IEC shall conduct the elections under procedures established by Secretary General to ensure transparency and fairness in the conduct of the elections, the collection of the ballots, and the tabulation of votes cast for each candidate.

4. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, may determine that it is not feasible to hold a free and fair second round of elections on November 7, and may postpone the second round to a date by which it expects such free and fair elections can be held. Such date may be postponed until the spring of 2010 or such other date as the Secretary General may decide.

5. The mandate of the current President of Afghanistan, which under the terms of the March decision of the Afghan Supreme Court expired in August, is extended until such time as the second round elections are held, complaints are heard and decided by the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the corrected results are announced by the ECC. The decision of the ECC shall be final, immediately binding, and not subject to judicial review.

6. The Security Council may encourage both parties to participate in the transitional government until the elections are held, and the final corrected results are announced by the ECC.

7. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) forces and other international forces should be augmented by further contributions from the respective members states and NATO countries, in order to ensure, inter alia, that the second round in the Presidential elections are held in a transparent, free and fair manner, resulting in the transfer of power to a new government that expresses the will of the people of Afghanistan.

The Trenchant Observer
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Please provide below, or submit privately to