How dysfunctional does the intelligence process in Afghanistan have to be for three senior intelligence officials, including Major General Michael T. Flynn who is currently Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, to write a report about the problem for a well-known Washington think tank with close ties to the Pentagon? Since the three authors have not been disciplined, one can only conclude that they have the backing of senior military leaders, perhaps including the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and the head of Central Command, General David Petraeus.
According to the authors, eight and a half years into the battle for Afghanistan, the intelligence process that supports Coalition operations in that country basically is busted. Most of what is collected, analyzed and disseminated, at worst, is worthless or, at best, irrelevant. Intelligence is too focused on providing targets for military actions, what is called actionable intelligence. Basic knowledge regarding conditions on the ground at the local level is largely lacking at higher echelons. “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. … 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.”
The report identifies two basic reasons for the problem, one organizational, the other strategic. The organizational problem is the mismatch between the locus of useful intelligence efforts which is at the tactical level (battalion and below) and where the resources reside, at higher echelons (brigade and regional commands). There are insufficient resources at the tactical level to meet ongoing demand, much less provide critical information to higher echelons. Higher echelons tend to provide information not useful to those living and fighting in the field. In one of the report’s most devastating passages, the authors note that “Some battalion S-2 officers say they acquire more information that is helpful by reading U.S. newspapers than reviewing regional command intelligence summaries.”
A dysfunctional intelligence structure and processes also means that senior leaders are not getting the information they need on which to make critical decisions. The report quotes General McChrystal to the effect that national leaders are not getting the information they need to make vital decisions. This revelation puts President Obama’s recent review of our Afghanistan strategy and his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in that country in a different light.
The strategic root of the problem is that the intelligence community “has fallen into the trap of waging an anti-insurgency campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign.” There is an excessive focus on identifying and targeting insurgents. This focus places a premium on the use of traditional means and methods of collecting and analyzing intelligence. As a result of the anti-insurgent focus, intelligence leaders demonstrate a disdain for the kinds of information and sources thereof which are most significant to fighting and winning what the authors argue is fundamentally a political struggle. The report quotes General McChrystal to the effect that the key to success in Afghanistan will come by winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, not by killing insurgents. It then goes on to declare that “too much of the intelligence community is deaf to these directions.”
The report provides what appears to be a reasonable blueprint for fixing intelligence in Afghanistan. The question is why the authors and their superiors felt it necessary to “call out” publicly their own intelligence organizations. This report appears to be the latest round in a war for control of the U.S. Army. On one side is the Army in the field represented by Generals Flynn, McChrystal and Petraeus. Along with the likely next Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, McChrystal and Petraeus have been fighting a protracted struggle to get their service to take counterinsurgency seriously. On the other side is the leadership of the institutional Army which appears still to be resisting making the desired intellectual, organizational and personnel decisions to address adequately the requirements of a counterinsurgency strategy. I have difficulty coming up with another reason why the three authors of this report would feel it necessary to take their case to the public.
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