Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Deferring to Petraeus

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 Dec. 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 Jan 3, 2011, an unnamed NATO official in Brussels said there were “up to 25,000” Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, according to a Jan. 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 Jan. 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 Jan. 9 statement by Lungescu.

An Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said Feb. 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 Mar. 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 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 investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
stclair
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail