RAND Report Cites Intelligence Failures in Afghanistan and Iraq

A confidential 318 page report prepared by the RAND Corporation, the Santa Monica CA based think tank that specializes in national security issues, that paints a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency effort undermined by intelligence failures that "at times border on the absurd" has been leaked on Wikileaks. The report covers intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and is based on over 300 interviews conducted at all levels with American, British, Canadian and Dutch intelligence officers and diplomats.

The report was prepared for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command and focuses on intelligence and counterinsurgency operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan but it is the comments on the lack of coordination between NATO partners in the Afghan theatre that are causing the greatest stir.  According to the UK Guardian, the marked "For Official Use Only" study was distribution restricted to a select group of NATO coalition war partners and  with the Israelis.

From the UK Guardian:

Based on scores of interviews with British, US, Canadian and Dutch military, intelligence and diplomatic officials - and marked for "official use only" - the book-length report is damning of a US military often unwilling to share intelligence among its military allies. It depicts commanders in the field being overwhelmed by information on hundreds of contradictory databases, and sometimes resistant to intelligence generated by its own agents in the CIA.

Counterinsurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical "junk" tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of "tip money" disbursed to sources.

The report describes a rigid reliance on economic, military and political progress indicators regarded by the authors and interviewees as too often lacking in real meaning.

Its sources complain of commanders who have slipped into relying on "the fallacy of body counts", discredited after the war in Vietnam as a measure of success.

The report, prepared by the RAND national defence research institute for US Joint Forces Command in November and leaked to the Wikileaks website, reveals the case of Dutch F-16 pilots in Afghanistan who were ordered by the US to bomb targets, only to be refused access to American "battle damage assessments" showing what they had hit, on the grounds that the Dutch were not "security cleared" to view them.

While the RAND report offers stark criticism of current intelligence gathering operations, the report also calls for a substantial overhaul of how military intelligence is gathered, organized and acted on. Quoting senior officers, it questions many everyday operations - from weapons searches to the killing or arrest of wanted individuals - suggesting that they "alienate" the local population for little measurable gain.

Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, former the senior British military representative in Iraq, said: "There were some operations taking place in Iraq where the success of the operation ... was judged solely against whether tactical success had been achieved; tactical success in terms of attrition of enemy forces, numbers killed or captured, numbers of weapons seized, amounts of explosives captured, extent of area controlled. By these criteria ... a given operation would be judged a success, regardless of the fact that it had seriously alienated the local population, and the fact that, within a few months, other insurgents had re-infiltrated and regained control."

An anonymous source quoted in the report stated that "operational commanders" continued to "indulge in the fallacy of body counts, and a month in which more Taliban are killed than in the previous month" was seen as progress. He added: "This is actually more likely to reflect the fact that there are more enemy on the battlefield than there were before."

Despite the huge emphasis on counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two years, the report's authors, Russell Glenn and Jamie Gayton, find it necessary to remind military readers of the importance of the civilian population in their efforts, not least in protecting civilians "against attack by both the enemy and your own forces".

"Those interviewed in support of this research," they wrote, "noted with no little frustration that coalition forces themselves too frequently neglect to treat local community members properly."

Perhaps most damning of all, however, is the suggestion from several of those interviewed that often they felt that an overall strategy for what they were supposed to be doing was entirely lacking.

One of those interviewed was Brigadier General Theo Vleugels, who described his 2006 command experience in southern Afghanistan in terms worthy of a passage from Joseph Heller's Catch 22. "We didn't have a campaign plan when we started, but we later got one from my higher headquarters that was close to ours, which is not surprising as they told us to do what we told them we would do."

Critics have already called the leaked report a "Pentagon Papers II". As the Wikileaks page with the download notes "the study is a notable news and policy source, not for its arguments or conclusions, but rather for its wealth of candid and revealing interview quotes which are spread throughout the document, but especially in the 200 page appendix." The report was prepared in November of 2008.

Some sample comments relating to Afghanistan:
We also spent a lot of time, money, blood, and treasure on going after MVTs [medium- value targets] and HVTs . . . and I don't think it had a great deal of effect on the Taliban because they are not hierarchical. If we killed one guy, they just replaced him in about 10 minutes. . . . [In that regard,] they are not that different [from] us.
I think that not interfering would be interfering with our mission. We dealt with training the police and then sent them out to the community. If they weren't paid, then they were extorting money at roadblocks. As the police are seen as coming out of our gates, eventually the extortion is going to reflect on us. The average Afghan citizen is not able to discern that it is Kabul that is at fault. . . . The Taliban is capitalizing on this very fact, because it is a regression to the situation like it was back before 1994. Police extortion is one way the Taliban is winning over the population.
Dutch F-16s would go out and fly missions [in Afghanistan], and after the missions they would ask for the BDA [battle-damage assessments], which were classified Secret U.S. They could fly the mission and drop the ordnance, but they couldnt get the battle-damage assessment.

Tags: Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO, US Foreign Policy, US Intelligence (all tags)

Comments

2 Comments

Charles, thanks for reminding me...

...tonight why I originally came to these blogs in the first place.

This is top-notch stuff you're covering in this diary...the type of article that belongs on page one of the NY Times, WaPo or the LA Times.

Very well done, indeed.

by bobswern 2009-03-05 08:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Charles, thanks for reminding me...

Thanks. Funny that no US papers that I have seen this morning have run with the story. Only European ones. Weird.

by Charles Lemos 2009-03-06 10:36AM | 0 recs

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