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US faces downward spiral in Afghan war, says leaked intelligence report PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Guardian Online

US intelligence agencies believe the war in Afghanistan is in "a downward spiral", sparking an urgent strategy rethink by the Bush administration as it enters its last three months in office, it was reported yesterday.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, a joint report by America's 16 spy agencies, is not due to be published until after next month's presidential election, but a draft version was leaked to US newspapers calling into question the coherence of US and Nato policy.
The document also places considerable blame on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, for failing to control corruption in his government. It also points to the destabilising impact of the booming opium trade, which now accounts for at least half the national economy.
The White House has ordered a review of its policy and sent a team to Kabul led by Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the president's military adviser on Afghanistan, to assess the situation.
"We have had a tough summer. There is no doubt about it," a Nato source told the Guardian. "There are concerns, and we would share concerns the NIE has identified for better Afghan governance. We have said for some time the solution is political and not military."
The Afghan government has been reported to be holding talks with the Taliban, hosted by Saudi Arabia, but it is unclear whether those contacts would lead to comprehensive peace talks.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has argued that Nato troops must confront Afghanistan's drug traffickers directly. The job has been left to Afghanistan's poorly trained and under-equipped police force. "Part of the problem that we face is that the Taliban make somewhere between $60m and $80m or more a year from the drug trafficking," Gates said at a Nato meeting in Budapest yesterday.
"... if we have the opportunity to go after drug lords and drug laboratories and try to interrupt this flow of cash to the Taliban, that seems to me like a legitimate security endeavour."
A proposed counter-narcotics mandate for Nato in Afghanistan divides opinion in Whitehall, putting the Foreign Office at odds with the Ministry of Defence.
The Foreign Office welcomed the move yesterday, saying Britain had been requesting it for years, in the face of resistance from some European allies. But British military officials were more sceptical, saying such operations would require the deployment of more forces.
"You can put your troops into counter-insurgency or you can go after the [drug trafficking] middleman but you can't do both," said a defence source.
British officers see the benefits of targeting drug laboratories and trafficking kingpins. But they argue that such operations should be undertaken primarily by Afghan forces, with Nato providing support. British diplomats are keen to emphasise that counter-narcotics efforts to date have brought results. They point to UN figures showing a 19% reduction in land under poppy cultivation last year, and a 6% fall in opium production. (The discrepancy between the two figures is explained by higher yields per hectare).
The NIE on Afghanistan appears destined to become an election issue in the final weeks of the contest between Barack Obama and John McCain.
The Pentagon plans to send another three brigades, up to 14,000 troops, to bolster the 33,000-strong US force there now, but in Budapest yesterday, US officials were urging their allies not to pull out when the American reinforcements arrive.
Meanwhile the United Arab Emirates has quietly become the 41st country contributing to the coalition effort in Afghanistan, although it is not clear what resources it intends to contribute.
The draft NIE on Afghanistan illustrates a darkening mood in western capitals. It follows a leaked French diplomatic dispatch quoting the British ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, as saying US strategy there had failed. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said the report had "garbled" the British position.

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