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Dennis Blair’s Dire Assessment of Afghanistan Strategy

Sure enough, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning that the greatest threat to the United States comes from the global economic meltdown. But take a look at what he had to say about Afghanistan.

According to Blair’s overview of the war, the Taliban-led insurgency has made gains in “previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul” in 2008. That’s “despite” U.S. and NATO military operations, which is another way of saying that last year was a lost year in Afghanistan. The training mission for the Afghan army and police has been beset with a number of problems, including “a shortage of international trainers in the field, high operational tempo, attrition, and absenteeism.” Corruption has “exceeded culturally tolerable levels” and is “eroding” the government’s perceived legitimacy. The government has a “chronic” shortage of “qualified and motivated” government officials all throughout the country. This is going to hurt the feelings of the Afghan delegation that recently visited Washington.

Then there’s this assessment, which I would guess is very likely to influence the White House’s Afghanistan strategy review, which is due next month:

The Afghan government has no coherent tribal engagement strategy, but where Pashtun tribal and government interests intersect, gains in local security, stability, and development are possible. At the provincial level, governors who have proven themselves effective mediators of local disputes among tribes and other local groups in their respective jurisdictions garner support from Afghan audiences and the donor community.

If U.S. officials are looking for a strategy in Afghanistan that basically circumvents the Kabul government, this paragraph from Blair will give them aid and comfort. But the implications of doing so are also highlighted in Blair’s briefing. Already there’s a pilot program for tribal-based auxiliary security that the Ministry of Interior is running in Wardak Province. Unfortunately, Blair says flatly that the Interior Ministry is “ineffective,” so perhaps that program could run off the rails. Look closely at what the Afghanistan strategy review from the White House has to say about tribal engagement, and why it will or won’t work.

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