Shadow Government

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In Afghanistan, military success and overall failure

The LA Times is carrying an interesting and important story about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the war in Afghanistan. The NIE is classified, but has been briefed to Congress (Congressional sources seem to have formed the basis for the article). The article states that the intelligence community has concluded that while the ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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The LA Times is carrying an interesting and important story about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the war in Afghanistan. The NIE is classified, but has been briefed to Congress (Congressional sources seem to have formed the basis for the article). The article states that the intelligence community has concluded that while the military has made significant gains against the Taliban, the war has ground to a stalemate. It cites three causes for the stalemate: (1) pervasive corruption and incompetence by the Afghan government; (2) sanctuary for Taliban in Pakistan; and (3) reductions in U.S. forces.

The commentariat will have a feeding frenzy on the Director of Central Intelligence supporting a set of conclusions he had objected to last year when he was commander of the war effort in Afghanistan. But Dave Petraeus’ reaction is the least interesting part of this story.

If the LA Times is accurate (and they have the best reporting on the middle east of any American newspaper), the NIE is going to be very damaging to the war effort. It also sounds about right in its assessment: we are militarily winning the war, but badly hindered by the shoddy Afghan government and the willingness of Pakistan to assist the Taliban. The NIE itself is quoted to question the viability of the Karzai government, even before the U.S. withdraws its troops.

The NIE evidently earned a formal protest from the entire leadership fighting the war, including General Mattis, the CENTCOM commander (responsible for all the Middle East and South Asia); Admiral Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (it is a NATO mission); General Allen, the Afghan war commander; and Ambassador Crocker, the Ambassador in Afghanistan. Among their reported objections are that the NIE bases its analysis on the assumption that all U.S. troops will depart Afghanistan in 2014; the Afghan war team insist that decision has not been made.

I hope they’re right. The central problem with President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end states his strategy seeks to achieve.

Our exit strategy for Afghanistan is to build an Afghan government, including security forces, that can do the work Americans are fighting and dying to succeed at now. That’s both sensible and achievable, the only way to make our gains more than transitory. But nothing in the Administration’s choices about either Iraq or Afghanistan suggests they will allow facts on the ground to determine the pace of their drawdown.

The Obama Administration scored a lot of cheap points against their predecessor by hailing the arrival of "smart power" — using political, military, and economic means in seamless orchestration. If reports of the NIE are accurate, it would be a terrible condemnation of the Administration’s efforts. For only the American military has proven able to achieve any effect in the complex task of nation building in Afghanistan, and it has done so without either the political or diplomatic support necessary to make their achievements durable.

The LA Times is carrying an interesting and important story about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the war in Afghanistan. The NIE is classified, but has been briefed to Congress (Congressional sources seem to have formed the basis for the article). The article states that the intelligence community has concluded that while the military has made significant gains against the Taliban, the war has ground to a stalemate. It cites three causes for the stalemate: (1) pervasive corruption and incompetence by the Afghan government; (2) sanctuary for Taliban in Pakistan; and (3) reductions in U.S. forces.

The commentariat will have a feeding frenzy on the Director of Central Intelligence supporting a set of conclusions he had objected to last year when he was commander of the war effort in Afghanistan. But Dave Petraeus’ reaction is the least interesting part of this story.

If the LA Times is accurate (and they have the best reporting on the middle east of any American newspaper), the NIE is going to be very damaging to the war effort. It also sounds about right in its assessment: we are militarily winning the war, but badly hindered by the shoddy Afghan government and the willingness of Pakistan to assist the Taliban. The NIE itself is quoted to question the viability of the Karzai government, even before the U.S. withdraws its troops.

The NIE evidently earned a formal protest from the entire leadership fighting the war, including General Mattis, the CENTCOM commander (responsible for all the Middle East and South Asia); Admiral Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (it is a NATO mission); General Allen, the Afghan war commander; and Ambassador Crocker, the Ambassador in Afghanistan. Among their reported objections are that the NIE bases its analysis on the assumption that all U.S. troops will depart Afghanistan in 2014; the Afghan war team insist that decision has not been made.

I hope they’re right. The central problem with President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end states his strategy seeks to achieve.

Our exit strategy for Afghanistan is to build an Afghan government, including security forces, that can do the work Americans are fighting and dying to succeed at now. That’s both sensible and achievable, the only way to make our gains more than transitory. But nothing in the Administration’s choices about either Iraq or Afghanistan suggests they will allow facts on the ground to determine the pace of their drawdown.

The Obama Administration scored a lot of cheap points against their predecessor by hailing the arrival of "smart power" — using political, military, and economic means in seamless orchestration. If reports of the NIE are accurate, it would be a terrible condemnation of the Administration’s efforts. For only the American military has proven able to achieve any effect in the complex task of nation building in Afghanistan, and it has done so without either the political or diplomatic support necessary to make their achievements durable.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

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