US intelligence, military at odds on Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, May 5 — US military and intelligence officials are at odds about how the 11-year war in Afghanistan is faring as President Barack Obama presses ahead with a gradual withdrawal of US troops out of the country, a leading Republican lawmaker said yesterday.
The US military is more optimistic about the state of the battle against Taliban insurgents than are intelligence officials on the ground in Afghanistan, said House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who returned this week from a visit to the country.
“My biggest take away from the trip was the huge difference between what the military says ... they believe the state of affairs is or our intelligence community believes the state of affairs is,” said Rogers, referring to officials he met during his visit to Afghanistan.
His comments came days after Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to sign a strategic pact with Kabul and deliver an election-year message to Americans on the anniversary of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden‘s death.
The partnership pact sets out a long-term role for the United States in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when most NATO combat troops are scheduled to leave. The war started in the month after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But Rogers said Afghanistan‘s fate after 2014 is far from clear.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty. There is no certain plan yet about what it looks like when the drawdown happens,” he said.
“Nobody knows ... the military didn’t know, the intelligence folks didn’t know, nobody had a good feeling about what happens next,” he added.
Other US and counterterrorism officials have said that counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan have recently showed success in pacifying swaths of territory where American and allied troops maintain a significant presence.
But even optimistic officials fear that any stability that currently exists in those areas could well deteriorate rapidly after US and allied troops permanently withdraw.
The US military sees the current situation as one in which the Taliban loses every battle fought against US forces.
“The Taliban has never won an engagement against the United States military, never, not one, zero,” Rogers said. “The military’s perspective is ‘Hey, they have never won a fight with us yet.’ True they have not.”
Taliban stronger today
But intelligence officials see the Taliban adjusting to avoid casualties and having strong recruiting, so they believe “the Taliban are stronger today than it was even a couple of years ago,” Rogers said.
“The Taliban has a clear political aim: to run the country. They want back,” Rogers said.
Counterterrorism officials say that the prospects for a stable, credible, and non-corrupt civilian government in Afghanistan remain poor for the long-term, and there is little optimism about what might happen after scheduled large-scale US withdrawals.
For military planners, the key question is whether Afghan security forces are up to the task of fighting the Taliban and providing sufficient security after NATO troops leave.
Rogers said Afghan special forces “are good” but it will be different without NATO support.
“The concern is when we don’t have this big footprint to help them be successful can they do it on their own? The consensus I got when I walked out of there was probably not,” he said.
With the US troop drawdown coming, “what worries everybody is this notion that it’s just going to be a special forces fight. That’s not sustainable,” Rogers said.
“That’s like going to Brooklyn saying we’re taking all the cops off the street but we’re going to have the best SWAT team in there. That’s probably not going to work. That SWAT team will be awful damn busy,” he said. — Reuters