The Common Good

Assessing the Afghanistan War

Over the past few days, news sources have reported on a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan delivered to the White House in December. NIEs represent the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies on national security issues, and are completed for use by high-level policy makers.

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The document remains classified, and news reports have emphasized different points.

McClatchy Newspapers wrote of a warning that “Taliban leaders haven't abandoned their goal of reclaiming power and reimposing harsh Islamic rule on Afghanistan.” The article quotes “a U.S. official” as saying, "There is no indication that the Taliban are ready to settle for a goal short of total control over an Islamic emirate."

While the U.S. military has made some gains since President Obama sent additional troops a year ago, the article says the NIE concludes they may not be sustainable.

The Los Angeles Times focused on the military situation and reported that the NIE claims, “The war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan.” Military officials reportedly are disagreeing with the conclusion, claiming that the NIE’s assumptions are flawed.

Reuters led with a U.S. official saying the NIE showed that the military campaign had damaged the Taliban, but "not enough so to change their strategic calculus." The document, the anonymous official said, “takes a dim view of possible futures in Afghanistan, especially with respect to the motivations of the Taliban.”

Based on past experience, I suspect the document, at least in its redacted form, will be printed eventually. But rather than wait and hope that it is, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), wrote to President Obama requesting that he authorize the declassification and release of the document.

“There are historical precedents for the declassification and release of NIEs,” they wrote. “Tragically, there are also historical precedents for inaccurate and misleading public assertions of progress in war by those opposed to bringing military actions to a close. It is haunting in the face of the enormous expenditure of American lives, limbs and resources that progress in Afghanistan may, in fact, be something other than is being represented by those who advocate continued involvement.”

As Congressional leaders of efforts to end the war, McGovern and Jones long have sought to bring the truth to light.

Their letter concludes, “The American public and its elected representatives deserve to have a full understanding of the situation in and outlook for Afghanistan as understood by our government.” Having struggled against too many wars, only to later find out that we were being given false or misleading information, they are right – we deserve to have a complete understanding.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners. Follow Duane on Twitter @DShankDC.

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