Leaked Report: U.S. intelligence failures hinder progress in Afghanistan

A confidential, novel-length report compiled by the RAND national defense research institute for U.S. Joint Forces Command has been leaked to the public, exposing failed U.S. intelligence as a major hindrance to the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.

The report – based on dozens of interviews with British, Canadian, Dutch, and U.S. army, intelligence and diplomatic officials – criticizes the U.S. for not sharing intelligence effectively with allies in the field, to the detriment of counterinsurgency operations.

Counterinsurgency in AfghanistanSeveral interviewees also shared that often, they felt that an overall strategy for what they were supposed to be doing was completely lacking. Brigadier General Theo Vleugels described his 2006 command experience in southern Afghanistan in words worthy of post-modern literary acclaim: “We didn’t have a campaign plan when we started, but we later got one from my higher headquarters that was close to ours, which is not surprising as they told us to do what we told them we would do.”

Apparently there’s a lot of disinformation floating around in the field, where money generates fabricated tips, and some officials are quantifying the intelligence effort by the amount of money being spent to purchase said tips. U.S. military commanders, overwhelmed by intel-overload coming in from hundreds of different databases, are reluctant to take on board even the intelligence offered to them by the CIA.

Interviewees further believe that the U.S. military has become uncompromisingly dependent on progress indicators that offer little reliable information regarding economic, military and political progress in the area. Some complain that commanders seem to measure success by body count, a method discredited following the war in Vietnam. An anonymous source points out that more Taliban dead is likely an indication that there are simply more Taliban fighting.

A couple poignant examples from the report:

[1] Dutch F-16 pilots in Afghanistan were ordered to hit certain targets by the U.S. When after the mission, the pilots requested to view American ‘battle damage assessments’ relating to the targets, the Dutch, apparently lacking the necessary security clearance, were denied access.

Return to Camp Holland[2] Coalition forces based at Camp Holland in southern Afghanistan have thirteen different intelligence units, none of them collaborating with each other above nominal level.

It’s no secret that the situation in Afghanistan is intensifying, that the Taliban and its allies are growing in confidence and strength. The hefty report suggests that the armed forces tasked with quelling the insurgency are not sufficiently trained/equipped to do so.

The RAND report urges a change in the way intelligence is gathered, disseminated and acted upon. It also points out that (according to senior officials), daily operations including weapons searches and killing or arresting wanted persons have thus far served to alienate the local population without leading to appreciable gain.

British Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, a top military rep in Iraq, is quoted in the report as follows: “There were some operations taking place in Iraq where the success of the operation… was judged solely against whether tactical success had been achieved; tactical success in terms of attrition of enemy forces, numbers killed or captured, numbers of weapons seized, amounts of explosives captured, extent of area controlled. By these criteria… a given operation would be judged a success, regardless of the fact that it had seriously alienated the local population, and the fact that, within a few months, other insurgents had re-infiltrated and regained control.”

Apparently, the same can be said of Afghanistan.

Finally, the RAND report issues a reminder that military personnel are not only responsible for countering the insurgency but also protecting the civilian population from being caught in the crossfire.

photos courtesy of www.defensetech.org and www.nrc.nl

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