Mar 06, 2009
A highly critical analysis of the US-led coalition's counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised serious questions about combat operations in both countries - and the intelligence underpinning them.
confidential document presents a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency
effort undermined by intelligence failures that at times border on the
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.
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
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.
complain of commanders who have slipped into relying on "the fallacy of
body counts", discredited after the war in Vietnam as a measure of
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.
Another interviewee describes how coalition
forces at Camp Holland near Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan
maintained 13 different intelligence sections, including US, Dutch,
UAE, and Australian, all operating with minimal co-operation.
would have been helpful [for us to have] combined them; then we would
have known everything," complained Lt Neils Verhoef, one of those
interviewed for the report. "One section knew the location of an IED
[improvised explosive device] factory, and we drove by it for three
The unflattering document will make grim reading for
President Barack Obama as he grapples with the worsening crisis in
Afghanistan, confronted by an increasingly emboldened Taliban and its
allies. With counterinsurgency tactics now placed at the centre of the
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the RAND report suggests that many
of the national armed forces involved lack skills to operate
It 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.
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
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".
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."
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."
RAND declined a request for an an interview with the authors.
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