Afghan prospects grim, report says

Intelligence estimate says country is in 'downward spiral'

October 09, 2008|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -

A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The classified report finds that the breakdown in central authority in Afghanistan has been accelerated by rampant corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai and by an increase in violence from militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan.

The report, a nearly completed version of a National Intelligence Estimate, is set to be finished after the November elections and will be the most comprehensive American assessment in years on the situation in Afghanistan. Its conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made Afghanistan the central focus of a global campaign against terrorism.

Beyond the cross-border attacks launched by militants in neighboring Pakistan, the intelligence report asserts that many of Afghanistan's most vexing problems are of the country's own making, the officials said.

The report notes gains in the building of Afghanistan's national army, the officials said. But they said it also laid out in stark terms what it described as the destabilizing impact of the booming heroin trade, which by some estimates accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan's economy.

The Bush administration has initiated a major review of its Afghanistan policy and has decided to send additional troops to the country. The downward slide in the security situation in Afghanistan has also become an issue in the presidential campaign, along with questions about whether the White House emphasis in recent years on the war in Iraq has been misplaced.

Inside the government, reports issued by the Central Intelligence Agency for more than two years have chronicled the worsening violence and rampant corruption inside Afghanistan, and some in the agency say they believe that it has taken the White House too long to respond to the warnings.

Henry A. Crumpton, a career CIA officer who stepped down last year as the State Department's top counterterrorism official, attributed some of Afghanistan's problems to a "lack of leadership" both at the White House and in European capitals where commitments to rebuild Afghanistan after 2001 have never been met.

Crumpton, who was in charge of the CIA teams that entered Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks but who said he had not seen the draft report, said that Afghanistan was "bad and getting worse" and that officials in Washington were just beginning to wake up to the problem.

"It's taken them a long time to realize it, but now they know it's pretty grim," he said.

A National Intelligence Estimate is a formal document that reflects the consensus judgments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Although the Bush administration has made public the crucial findings from some recent NIEs on Iraq and terrorism, most remain classified. The assessment on Afghanistan is the first since the Taliban regained strength there beginning in 2006 and launched an offensive that has allowed them to seize large swaths of territory.

The draft intelligence report was described by more than a half-dozen current government officials who have read its conclusions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the report remains classified and has not been completed.

Richard Willing, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which produces the assessments, declined to comment. A White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, also declined to comment on the report's conclusions but said: "Everyone understands that the current situation in Afghanistan is a tough one. That's why the president ordered additional troops there. That's why we're increasing the size of the Afghanistan army."

Both major presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, have called for U.S. troop increases in Afghanistan. Obama has accused the White House of paying too little attention to Afghanistan as it poured the bulk of American resources into the war in Iraq, while McCain has defended the administration's decision.

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