|With President Obama set to announce a new strategy for Afghanistan, it's worth examining the intelligence problem posed by that country. It is, by any measure, daunting.
Max Bergmann recently wrote that saying Afghanistan is "harder" than Iraq is "Monday morning quarterbacking." After all, the United States muddled through Iraq for years before things stabilized somewhat. He has a point. And although he says the question isn't very helpful, he makes an eloquent case for it being directly relevant to the whole question of the U.S. strategy: "If we are truly committed to Afghanistan and believe that it is harder than Iraq, shouldn’t we be committing more resources and manpower to Afghanistan than we did in Iraq?"
But is Bergmann right that Afghanistan isn't "harder?" At a media roundtable I attended as a reporter for CQ, U.S. spy chief Dennis Blair said this: "We know a heck of a lot more about Iraq on a granular level than we know about Afghanistan." He was answering a question from a reporter who relayed a tale -- from not so long ago -- where military forces in Afghanistan relied on maps featuring non-existent villages. Blair said the problem went beyond maps to basic understandings of local power structures.
The United States has been in Afghanistan longer than it has been in Iraq, so the number of years spent muddling is secondary. Afghanistan IS harder, or the considerable gap between American resources spent on Iraq and Afghanistan means the United States has come to figure out Iraq in a way that it hasn't Afghanistan. Or it's both. Whatever the case, as of now, Afghanistan is harder than Iraq.
Recent news reports about a Rand study on counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan focused primarily on Afghanistan. The intelligence failures there, according to the Guardian, "border on the absurd."
Blair said the intelligence community may have a fair assessment of the overall situation in Afghanistan, but when it comes to tactical intelligence used to support operations, the spy agencies have a long way to go. And since according to the new strategy, more troops will be sent, that almost assuredly means more operations. That makes the improvement of tactical intelligence in Afghanistan vital to success there. And that won't be easy.
|This is an important factor that I don't think is getting quite enough reportage...or it's just starting to get the proper level of reportage. Afghanistan offers several challenges that the more urban Iraq did not. Terrain, history, culture, all are deeply confounding. And in considering those, we aren't even considering it how its geopolitical positioning combined with its rural makeup means the whole place is essentially a lawless borderland surrounded by other lawless borderlands in the jurisdictions of competitive neighbors.
On-the-ground spying means making contacts, reading papers, listening to conversations...it's social networking to the Nth degree. That's very hard to do in a country that has been the victim of three decades of warfare ripping apart its social networks.
On top of that, a nation in conflict, especially one with Afghanistan's weird placement geographically means that there are a complex range of competing interests which makes interpretation of intel harder to muster.
War makes spying hard.
|Porchy | Homepage | E-Mail | 27.03.2009, 13:52|
|More troops - means more from countries other than the U.S. - i.e. from Germany which has been pressed especially hard. Only a few decades after the mess of WW II, Germany is fighting another bloody war - not only that the world should wake up to the twist and turn of the West (Germany on Britain's payroll?), but Germans themselves are wary of waging war.|
|Robert | Homepage | E-Mail | 27.03.2009, 05:50|