– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —
Hot on the heels of what President Barack Obama called a potentially disastrous “screw-up” by the civilian intelligence community, here comes a devastating report on shortcomings of military intelligence in Afghanistan, by the officer in charge of it. He likens the work of analysts to fortune-telling.
The report is highly unusual both because of its almost brutal candor and the way it was published, outside military channels. Even more unusual: the three authors hold out journalistic skills as models to emulate for gathering and putting together intelligence.
“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” write the authors, Major General Michael Flynn, the most senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, his advisor Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
“The … vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among the villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers … U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.”