Congress has been briefed on a new National Intelligence estimate on Afghanistan that is said to throw cold water on the idea that the US military has made significant progress in Afghanistan as a result of President Obama’s troop escalation.
In a further demonstration that people leak classified documents all the time in Washington–it isn’t just Wikileaks — the NIE’s key findings were provided (almost certainly by congressmen) to the LAT and other newspapers. The LAT says that the analysts of 16 intelligence agencies in Washington “contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban” and that elements in Pakistan’s continue to train, support and behind the scenes use Taliban groups in Afghanistan.
In a significant turn of events, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), a contender for chairman of the House intelligence committee, said in response that it might be time to begin withdrawing toops from Afghanistan and for the US to have a ‘smaller footprint’ there. A small footprint approach (counter-terrorism) had been suggested in 2009 by VP Joe Biden but rejected in favor of a troop escalation and a wide-ranging ‘counter-insurgencey’ effort, which requires pacifying the whole country. Rogers seems to have been convinced by the new NIE that the latter is unlikely. Counter-insurgency depends on having a reliable local partner, but doubts have been raised about President Hamid Karzai’s dependability, to say the least (scroll down).
If the Republicans in Congress start calling for a troop withdrawal, it will be hard for Obama to resist starting the withdrawal process.