Deferring to Petraeus, NIE Failed to Register Taliban Growth

(IPS) — Despite evidence that the Taliban insurgency had grown significantly in 2010, the U.S. intelligence community failed to revise its estimate for Taliban forces as part of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan in December.

That unusual decision was in deference to Gen. David Petraeus,
commander of U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan, who did not want any official estimate of the insurgency’s strength that would contradict his claims of success by Special Operations Forces in reducing the capabilities of the Taliban in 2010.

In late 2009, the intelligence community adopted an estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 full-time insurgents, as reported by McClatchy newspapers in November and confirmed in a press briefing by Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), on December 3, 2009.

But in 2010, the Taliban and their allies increased the total number of attacks to 34,000, compared with 22,000 in 2009, according to official ISAF data – a whopping 54 percent rise.

That major step-up in operations suggested that the Taliban had grown substantially between 2009 and 2010. Yet no revised intelligence estimate of Taliban strength appeared in late 2010, even though the National Intelligence Council produced a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan in December. Such an NIE would normally be expected to include an updated estimate of insurgent strength.

Last month, officials of NATO and Petraeus’s command managed to
suggest that the number of insurgents had not grown in 2010 and then dismissed the very idea of an intelligence estimate of the size of the forces fighting against ISAF.

On January 3, 2011, an unnamed NATO official in Brussels said there were “up to 25,000” Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, according to a January 6 story by Associated Press reporter Slobodan Lekic. The same 25,000 figure – the mid-point in the 2009 estimate – had been provided earlier by “several military officers and diplomats”, according to the Lekic story.

That figure would imply that the number of full-time Taliban had not grown since 2009, and might even have shrunk – thus supporting Petraeus’s claims of success.

But in a January 9 response to a query from Associated Press, NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, clearly disparaged the idea that there could be an official estimate of the Taliban strength. “There has never been a single reliable source for the size of the insurgency,” said Lungescu, adding that all estimates of the insurgents are “highly unreliable”.

Lungescu sought to divert attention away from a focus on the numerical strength of the Taliban, suggesting that it “misrepresents gains made by alliance forces in the past year”. But it is logically impossible for a numerical estimate of insurgent strength to “misrepresent” the results of military operations.

Lungescu was implying that an estimate of Taliban numerical strength would interfere with ISAF’s claims of having weakened the Taliban.

In an obvious effort to suggest that the insurgency had been reduced in size, Lungescu said,”[T]housands of insurgent leaders have been killed or captured and several thousand fighters have been taken off the battlefield.”

In response to an IPS query to ISAF about the estimated strength of
the Afghan armed insurgency, an ISAF spokesman, U.S. Navy Lt. Fernando Rivero, did not respond except to refer to the January 9 statement by Lungescu.

An Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said February 9 that the ministry estimates the number of Taliban insurgents at between 25,000 and 35,000, although he said it was “just a guess”.

The failure of the intelligence community to adopt a revised estimate in the NIE last year was shaped by a highly politicised relationship between the intelligence community and the most powerful field commander in modern U.S. warfare.

The NIE reflected an agreement on what one intelligence source called a “division of labour” between the NIE and the military under which the NIE would not deal with issues bearing on the success of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. Intelligence officials understood that such issues were “outside our lane”, the source said.

An estimate of Taliban strength in the NIE would have obvious bearing on the success of U.S. military operations, since it would show whether the Taliban had been able to continue to grow despite losses inflicted by Special Operations Forces raids.

The decision to forego a formal estimate of insurgent forces may have been authorised by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who has oversight of any national intelligence product, and adjudicates any major differences of view that can’t be negotiated. Clapper, who took over as DNI last August, has a reputation for sacrificing truth to support existing war policies.

He is best known for having claimed in October 2003, when he was
director of the Defence Department’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency, that the missing WMD in Iraq “unquestionably” had been transferred to Syria and other countries before the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Dr. Antonio Giustozzi of the London School of Economics, a
widely-published specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, told IPS
the Afghan National Army had provided him with an estimate in April 2010 of 36,000 full-time insurgents – roughly a 50 percent increase over the 2009 estimate.

Giustozzi provided IPS with his detailed estimate of insurgent forces
as of January 2011. The estimate includes 36,000 full-time fighters and nearly 50,000 part-time local fighters. The Taliban only mobilise that much larger local pool of manpower occasionally, according to Giustozzi.

That a revised estimate of the insurgency’s strength is missing from the latest NIE recalls the political struggle between the CIA and the U.S. military command over the estimate of Vietnamese Communist-led military forces.

In late 1966, a CIA analyst, Sam Adams, found that the military’s
estimate of less than 300,000 Communist-led forces in Vietnam did not reflect the evidence of continued growth in those forces – and particularly of “irregular” local paramilitary forces.

The CIA came up with a new estimate of Communist-led forces to 431,000 to 491,000, which was presented in a draft national intelligence estimate in spring 1967. But the military command continued to stonewall, flatly refusing to accept any increase in the overall Viet Cong “order of battle” above 300,000.

Gen. Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to
Gen. William Westmoreland, the top U.S. commander in Vietnam, on March 9, 1967, “If these figures should reach the public domain they would literally blow the lid off Washington.”

Wheeler urged Westmoreland to “do whatever is necessary to insure [sic] that these figures are not repeat [sic] not released to news media or otherwise exposed to the public.”

Westmoreland agreed. According to his intelligence chief, Gen. Joseph A. McChristian, Westmoreland said such an estimate would be a “political bombshell” if it got out to the public.

CIA Director Richard Helms finally caved in to military pressure in
September 1967 and ordered the CIA to agree to an estimate of exactly 299,000.

Former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, told IPS he recalls Sam Adams quoting in a conversation with him the explanation Helms had given to Adams: “My job is to protect the Agency, and there is no way I can do that if I get into a pissing match with the Army when it’s at war.”

Like Westmoreland, Petraeus appears to have invoked the privilege of the military commander to avert the potential “political bombshell” of an estimate that would almost certainly have shown a large increase in the number of armed insurgents in Afghanistan.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. shabnam said on February 15th, 2011 at 9:04pm #

    It has been reported that Holbrooke’s last words came just before the 21-hour operation:

    As Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon, family members said: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”


    Hillary Clinton has selected another Zionist to fill Holbrooke’s post.

    Muslim population of the United States is equal or higher than Jewish population, yet Muslims are not appointed to political office to represent the US abroad. On the hand, Jews are regularly are given ambassadorship position to represent the United States abroad

    Hillary Clinton has selected MARC GROSSMAN, a Zionist, as the new Special Representative for Afghanistan & Pakistan, to fill Holbrooke’s post. The other choice was Frank G. Wisner, former Ambassador to Egypt, who freaked out to see Mubarak, protector of Israel, to be overthrown soon.


    It is interesting, however, to see American people are not curious to ask: Why majority of US ambassadors are Zionist, especially ambassadors to Islamic countries.
    The United States even has chosen a zionist Jew as an ambassador to Israel, example is Martin Indyk who served as the United States ambassador to Israel.

    Hillary Clinton is trying to fool people with ‘ protest’ in Iran, few hundreds, to divert attention from US foreign policy disaster in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon onto Iranian ‘opposition’ constructed and trained by American r tax $$$, which shows how DESPRATE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IS due to following the Zionist instruction on Iran, not American interest.
    Obama’s Zionist policy on Iran has been rejected by Iranians. Iranians are FED UP WITH your Zionist policy which is based on Iran destruction. We as Iranians are united against our enemies and will destroy them if they dare to attack us. We are fed up with Americans who are silent against US aggression and its war mongers who recognize no limits when it comes to ‘power’ and need to create ‘enemy’ to fool it population for more wars. Majority of countries in the region are slowly but surely coming together to cooperate and form a united front against COMMON ENEMY, US imperialism/ Zionism and their stooges.

    Egyptian people not only are fighting for jobs, but also against US and Zionist policy in the region including neo liberal economic arrangement and the occupation of Palestine. Thousand of Egyptian people shouted Allah o Akbar and chanted slogans against Israel and US but the media ignored.
    Hillary and Obama should know that they are not respected in the region because people know US/Israel policy is based on destruction of Muslim countries to allow Zionist expansionist policy go forward. People of the region will never allow that to happen and will force you out of our region. The longer you stay as an occupier, the less respect you will get. Your agents, NED stooges and MEK terrorists cannot do a damn thing in Iran. American people should prevent destabilization project which uses your TAX $$$$ to kill Iranian people including the Iranian scientists by MEK. Obama should realize that the divide and rule policy has BACKFIRED. Cannot you see?
    American people must RISE UP now to throw the Zionist stooges out of the office in order to prevent another war, otherwise, you will be viewed as accomplices in Obama/Clinton’s war crime activity against Muslims. People of the region cannot be fooled any more by your evil policies.

  2. mary said on February 16th, 2011 at 12:51am #

    Obomber has to find a replacement for Betrayus who is going soon according to the ZBC this morning. They also said that he has some idea about standing for the Presidency in 2012. God help us all.

  3. mary said on February 16th, 2011 at 7:51am #

    His departure confirmed by Russia Today. What a disappointment to his masters.


  4. shabnam said on February 16th, 2011 at 5:53pm #

    The stupid American politicians think they can fool the public by asking Al-Janabi to say:

    {Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.}

    American war criminals think they can get a way with mass murder by this sort of garbage.
    This petty Iraqi man said:

    {“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime.}

    He said:

    {“Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”}

    I guess they want to use the same way, lies and deception, to bring the same kind of democracy to Iran, using MEK’s lies.
    Iranian people never allow war criminal to repeat their crimes in Iran. F*ck off.


  5. mary said on February 17th, 2011 at 1:17pm #

    From the Stop The War Coalition newsletter 17 February

    Rumours that General Petreaus is quitting command of the US
    forces in Afghanistan are an indication of the turmoil over
    Afghanistan policy.

    The Petraeus’ troop “surge” has not led to a military
    breakthrough. Attempts to build up anti-Taliban Afghan forces are
    in tatters, after in-fighting broke out amongst rival groups in
    Helmand this week.

    Meanwhile violence in Afghanistan is at an all time high. Recent
    figures show civilian casualties have increased by 31 percent
    since last year. The number of children killed in the war is up
    55 percent.

    Seven British soldiers have died in the last week — hardly
    reported in the media — bringing the total to 357, almost double
    the number of those killed in Iraq.

    Fighting is due to restart in earnest in the spring and US
    Admiral Mike Mullen issued a warning this week that 2011 will be
    even more violent than 2010 — the worst year of the war so far.

    Stop the War is organising a day of protests on Saturday 12 March
    against NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. Stop the War activists
    will be out in town centres up and down the country calling for
    the troops to come home.

    This is less than two weeks before the government sets a budget
    and a golden opportunity for us to protest the waste of billions
    on a pointless war at a time of massive cutbacks.

    If you would like to get involved in local activity on the March
    12 Day of Action, please contact the Stop the War national