A top military intelligence chief is calling for revamped US intelligence efforts in Afghanistan in a scathing report that says the current focus on insurgent networks is “only marginally relevant.”
Major General Michael Flynn, the top US and NATO military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, made the unsparing assessment in a report written with two other intelligence officials and published Monday by a Washington think tank.
“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” Flynn and his colleagues wrote.
The top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has made counter-insurgency warfare the centerpiece of a new Afghan strategy that seeks to secure the population and win over increasingly disenchanted Afghans.
But Flynn’s report said the US intelligence effort in Afghanistan is consumed with tracking militants and roadside bombs.
It said “the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which US and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.”
“US 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.”
Flynn’s paper comes less than a week after a Jordanian double agent blew himself up at a base in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, killing seven Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents and a Jordanian officer.
More alarming yet, the conclusions were released as the United States is massively increasing its troop presence in Afghanistan — with the US presence set to reach 100,000 forces this spring — to regain terrain from emboldened Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
According to Flynn, military intelligence officers deployed in Afghanistan are “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced.”
They are also “incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers,” he added.
In order to correct the flaws, the general urged military units on the ground to write and share reports on their patrols, their exchanges with farmers and local leaders or on radio shows heard by locals.
Comparing the war in Afghanistan to campaigning for a government post, Flynn stressed that “in order to succeed, a candidate’s pollsters and strategists… must constantly explore the local levels, including voters’ grievances, leanings, loyalties and activities” that opponents could exploit.
Intelligence officers “must embrace open-source, population-centric information as the lifeblood of their analytical work,” not just clandestine work, Flynn said.
He cited lieutenant general Samuel Wilson, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as saying that “the real intelligence hero is Sherlock Holmes, not James Bond.”
Some in Washington reacted coolly to Flynn’s remarks.
“Counterinsurgency, starting with a clear understanding of the enemy’s motivation, strength and intentions, has to be a major focus of intelligence in the country,” a US intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
“If you get that piece wrong, you’re not going to have much success with anything else.”
Flynn wrote the report with an adviser, Marine Corps Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Senior Executive Service.