While conditions worsen, the "conventional wisdom" insists on sending in more troops. We can bet however, that more troops won't help. If 30,000 soldiers are not enough, by the time another 5,000 or 10,000 are sent, the enemy will be that much stronger. The real challenge is to get the Afghani people fighting on the side of their government, get the government to be worthy of support by the Afghan people, and to change tactics and improve intelligence.
WASHINGTON: US intelligence agencies believe the war in Afghanistan is in "a downward spiral" and cast serious doubts on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taleban's influence there, sparking an urgent strategy rethink by the Bush administration as it enters its last three months in office.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, a joint report by America's 16 spy agencies, is not due to be published until after next month's presidential election, but appears destined to become an election issue in the final weeks of the contest between presidential contenders Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
The solutions offered by the presidential nominees have largely called for sending more US troops to Afghanistan. Obama has said he would send at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan. McCain has called for sending at least three more brigades to the country.
An army brigade ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. There are currently about 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has asked for four more combat brigades and support forces. But so far, the Bush administration, citing constraints imposed by the Iraq conflict, has promised only one combat brigade by February.
The White House has ordered a review of its policy and sent a team to Kabul led by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the president's military adviser on Afghanistan, to assess the situation.
A draft version leaked to a few US newspapers this week called into question the coherence of US and NATO policy.
The Washington Post said the NIE describes a Pakistan-based extremist network with three elements Pakistani extremists allied with Kashmiri fighters, Afghan Taleban, and traditional tribal groups in western Pakistan that assist the other groups.
"Al-Qaeda, composed largely of Arabs, and increasingly, Uzbeks, Chechens and other Central Asians, is described as sitting atop the structure, providing money and training to the others in exchange for sanctuary," it reported.
The document places considerable blame on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, for failing to control corruption in his government.
It also points to the destabilizing impact of the booming opium trade, which now accounts for at least half the national economy and cites an increase in violence by militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan.
The Afghan government has been reported to be holding talks with the Taleban, but it is unclear whether those contacts would lead to comprehensive peace talks.
The report concluded that reconstituted elements of Al-Qaeda and the resurgent Taleban are collaborating with an expanding network of terrorist groups, making the counterinsurgency war infinitely more complicated.
NATO defense ministers agreed to allow alliance troops in Afghanistan to combat narcotics traffickers funding an increasingly deadly Taleban insurgency.
Robert Gates, the US defense secretary, argued that NATO troops must confront Afghanistan's drug traffickers directly. The job has been left to Afghanistan's poorly trained and under-equipped police force. "Part of the problem that we face is that the Taleban make somewhere between $60 million and $80 million or more a year from drug trafficking," Gates said at a NATO meeting in Budapest on Thursday.
The draft NIE on Afghanistan illustrates a darkening mood in Western capitals. It follows a leaked French diplomatic dispatch quoting the British ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, as saying US strategy there had failed. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said the report had "garbled" the British position.
"There has been very, very tough fighting this year, and it will be tougher next year unless we adjust," Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday.