Friday, December 17, 2010

Pentagon and US Intelligence Disagree on Afghan War

WASHINGTON, Dec 16: US intelligence agencies are lining up against the Pentagon in the debate over Afghanistan strategy, arguing that the prospect for success in the war is questionable despite recent military gains.

Experts within the US government, including officials familiar with advice the White House is receiving, say recent progress is undermined by a weak and corrupt Afghan government and Pakistan’s reluctance to crack down on militants allegedly hiding on its side of the border.

“There is a lot of scepticism within the administration about whether the strategy is working,” including among intelligence and some White House officials, said Caroline Wadhams, South Asia expert at the Centre for American Progress, a think tank close to the White House.

Amid talk of review of US operations in Afghanistan that was announced on Thursday, there was deep division among the agencies advising President Barack Obama, according to US officials.

Pentagon leaders say they believe the counter-insurgency policy, crafted and directed by General David Petraeus, has made progress in clearing Taliban fighters out of parts of Afghanistan and then holding that territory.

A principal objective of the strategy is to expand those areas until they overlap, creating a swath of insurgent-free territory that US forces can hand to Afghan authorities.

But US spy agencies gave the White House a more pessimistic assessment of the counter-insurgency strategy.

According to two US officials, pessimism about US prospects is reflected in two National Intelligence Estimates, one about Afghanistan and the other about Pakistan.

Those reports were submitted to the White House as the US intelligence agencies’ contribution to the policy review.

The officials said the estimates represented a differing assessment from military leaders about the likelihood of significant progress in Afghanistan before next July when Mr Obama says he plans to start winding down US operations there.

Most notable among the intelligence agencies’ concerns, the officials said, was their assessment that long-term progress in Afghanistan would be very difficult until Pakistan took stronger action against militants in the border area.

The CIA has been conducting an extensive secret campaign using drone aircraft to kill Al Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan. But some US officials say that if anything, efforts by Pakistan’s own intelligence and military services to root out militants from their sanctuaries have lately been less, rather than more, vigorous.

“There’s broad agreement among senior policymakers that CIA operations are doing major damage to terrorists,” said one US official, who added the United States “simply can’t afford to curtail” the drone campaign.

“The Pakistanis, for their part, could step up to the plate a bit more if for no other reason than it’s in their own self-interest.

After all, they’ve been brutally targeted by very bad actors who live on Pakistani soil,” he added.

There is a growing belief within Congress that current war policy is in serious jeopardy due to alleged Pakistani recalcitrance and Afghan corruption, according to congressional aides who said those problems were leading prominent lawmakers to conclude privately the United States should extricate its forces sooner rather than later.—Reuters

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