Thursday, 24 November 2011

Debating the US National Intelligence Estimate

Excellent, well-informed article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker on the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan. Coll says the NIEs, which are seldom published and are classified Secret or Top Secret, contain the most up-to-date information on the Obama Administration's take on the war. The last two, he says offered a gloomy picture, with the 2010 report warning that "large swathes of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban".
The new draft, around 100 pages long and due to be circulated shortly, contains six Key Judgments and is said to be gloomier than the typical public statements made by US military commanders in Afghanistan.
It is said to raise doubts about the authenticity and durability of alleged gains in Kandahar and Helmand provinces since the Obama troop surge and also suggests that the next generation of political leaders after Karzai will be more corrupt.
It also questions the success of the programme to train and equip the Afghan military and police forces, noting that the projected cost of running a force of 350,000 after 2014 will be $8-10 billion a year, more than the US is willing or able to pay.
As Coll points out, you hardly need secret information to come to these conclusions. It is not hard to see that little progress is being made in the country and that conditions in many areas are deteriorating, despite the billions of dollars sloshing around in military and civilian aid.
Coll says that Maj.Gen. John R Allen, the US commander in Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, believe the NIE to be too pessimistic and that they intend to dissent from its conclusions. With General David Petraeus now in charge of the CIA there is also a danger, says Coll, that intelligence from that quarter will also be 'militarised'. To guard against this he argues that unclassified versions of the key judgments in the latest NIE should be published so that they can be publicly debated. Well said.

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