Just a day ahead of the official release of the administration’s Afghanistan review, someone has leaked the intelligence community’s assessment of the situation — which apparently is less optimistic than the military’s view. As the New York Times notes, part of the discrepancy is due to “the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote ‘can do’ optimism.”
There is also the highly significant fact that apparently the intelligence assessment is based on information received as of October 1 — i.e., 10 weeks ago. A lot has happened in that time, with U.S. forces continuing to solidify their hold in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, as I saw for myself last week. Judging Afghanistan based on what it looked like on October 1 hardly provides an accurate picture of where it is today — or where it is going.
According to the Times, the chief reason for gloom in the intel community assessment is the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan — “there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border,” the spooks claim. The military command — which I just visited — hardly disputes the problems created by Pakistan sanctuaries. The question is whether we can succeed even with Pakistan playing an unhelpful role. I believe we can, because most insurgents come from the areas where they stage attacks; if we can do a better job of spreading security and addressing local grievances, the insurgents will find it hard to gain traction, notwithstanding all the support they may continue to get in Pakistan.