[R-G] U.S. report warns of crisis in Afghanistan
fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Oct 9 12:48:18 MDT 2008
U.S. report warns of crisis in Afghanistan
By Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
Thursday, October 9, 2008
WASHINGTON: A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes
that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" and casts serious doubt on
the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's
influence there, according to American officials familiar with the
The classified report finds that the breakdown in central authority in
Afghanistan has been accelerated by rampant corruption within the
government of President Hamid Karzai and by an increase in violence
from militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks
from havens in Pakistan.
The report, a nearly completed version of a National Intelligence
Estimate, is set to be finished after the November elections and will
be the most comprehensive American assessment in years on the
situation in Afghanistan. Its conclusions represent a harsh verdict on
decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States made Afghanistan the
central focus of a global campaign against terrorism.
Beyond the cross-border attacks launched by militants in neighboring
Pakistan, the intelligence report asserts that many of Afghanistan's
most vexing problems are of the country's own making, the officials
The report cites gains in the building of Afghanistan's national army,
the officials said. But they said it also laid out in stark terms what
it described as the destabilizing impact of the booming heroin trade,
which by some estimates accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan's
The Bush administration has initiated a major review of its
Afghanistan policy and has decided to send additional troops to the
country. The downward slide in the security situation in Afghanistan
has also become an issue in the presidential campaign, along with
questions about whether the White House emphasis in recent years on
the war in Iraq has been misplaced.
Inside the government, reports issued by the Central Intelligence
Agency for more than two years have chronicled the worsening violence
and rampant corruption inside Afghanistan, and some in the agency say
they believe that it has taken the White House too long to respond to
Henry Crumpton, a career CIA officer who last year stepped down as the
State Department's top counterterrorism official, attributed some of
Afghanistan's problems to a "lack of leadership" both at the White
House and in European capitals where commitments to rebuild
Afghanistan after 2001 have never been met.
Crumpton, who was in charge of the CIA teams that entered Afghanistan
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but who said he had not seen the
draft report, said that Afghanistan was "bad and getting worse" and
that officials in Washington were just beginning to wake up to the
"It's taken them a long time to realize it, but now they know it's
pretty grim," he said.
A National Intelligence Estimate is a formal document that reflects
the consensus judgments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Although
the Bush administration has made public the crucial findings from some
recent intelligence estimates on Iraq and terrorism, most remain
classified. The assessment on Afghanistan is the first since the
Taliban regained strength there beginning in 2006 and launched an
offensive that has allowed them to seize large swaths of territory.
The draft intelligence report was described by more than a half dozen
current government officials who have read its conclusions. They spoke
on the condition of anonymity because the report remains classified
and has not yet been completed.
Richard Willing, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, which produces the national intelligence
assessments, declined to comment for this article. A White House
spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, also declined to comment on the report's
conclusions but said: "Everyone understands that the current situation
in Afghanistan is a tough one. That's why the president ordered
additional troops there. That's why we're increasing the size of the
Both major presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John
McCain, have called for U.S. troop increases in Afghanistan even
beyond those the White House has ordered. Obama has accused the White
House of paying too little attention to Afghanistan as it poured the
vast bulk of American resources into the war in Iraq, while McCain has
defended the administration's decision, saying that Iraq remains the
more important front in the battle against terrorism.
In the presidential debate on Tuesday, Obama said he told Karzai
during a visit to Afghanistan in July that the Afghan leader had "to
do better by your people in order for us to gain the popular support
"We have to have a government that is responsive to the Afghan
people," Obama said, "and frankly it's just not responsive right now."
American officials said that intelligence agencies were also working
to produce an assessment on Pakistan, and that both were to be
completed after the elections next month. They said the draft findings
had already begun to influence the recommendations of the White House-
led review of Afghanistan policy, which was scheduled to be completed
this month but has now been postponed several weeks.
The administration is considering whether the United States should
devote more effort to working directly with tribal leaders in far-
flung provinces, and possibly arming tribal militias, to fight the
Taliban in places where Afghanistan's army and police forces have been
The Bush administration had long resisted making tribal elders a
centerpiece of American strategy in Afghani- stan. American officials
had hoped instead that strong national institutions like the Afghan
Army could protect the Afghan population, but the escalating violence
this year has forced a reassessment of the value of the tribal system
for counterinsurgency operations.
"In order to have an effective counterinsurgency strategy, you need to
have strong local governance in the districts and the provinces," said
a senior State Department official who has been briefed on the
report's broad conclusions, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In a sign of the seriousness of the administration's policy review,
the White House's top coordinator for Afghanistan policy, Lieutenant
General Douglas Lute of the army, will lead a delegation of
specialists who will travel there to assess the current situation, a
senior administration official said Wednesday.
Administration officials say the review is examining how and where the
nearly $6 billion in annual American assistance to Afghanistan is
being spent; how to improve the effectiveness of small teams of
American and European civilians and troops seeded throughout the
Afghan provinces to spur economic growth; and how to strike the right
balance between taking military action against the Taliban and Al
Qaeda in Pakistan and providing more development aid to that country.
Senior American commanders have recently been blunt in their
assessment of the security trends in the country. "In large parts of
Afghanistan, we don't see progress," General David McKiernan, the top
American officer in Afghanistan, told reporters last week. "We're into
a very tough counterinsurgency fight and will be for some time."
It is not just American officials who offer a grim prognosis. A French
diplomatic cable leaked to a French newspaper last week quoted the
British ambassador to Afghanistan as forecasting that the NATO-led
mission there would fail.
"The current situation is bad, the security situation is getting
worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust," the
British envoy, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was quoted as telling the French
deputy ambassador to Kabul, who wrote the cable.
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