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Petraeus: Can He Tell It Straight?
by Ray McGovern, April 29, 2011
The news that President Barack Obama has picked Gen. David Petraeus to be CIA director raises troubling questions, including whether the commander most associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will tolerate objective analysis of those two conflicts.
What if CIA analysts assess the prospects of success in those two wars as dismal and conclude that the troop "surges" pushed so publicly by Petraeus wasted both the lives of American troops and many billions of taxpayer dollars? Will CIA Director Petraeus welcome such critical analysis or punish it?
The Petraeus appointment also suggests that the President places little value on getting the straight scoop on these key war-related issues. If he did want the kind of intelligence analysis that, at times, could challenge the military, why is he giving the CIA job to a general with a huge incentive to gild the lily regarding the "progress" made under his command?
Petraeus already has a record as someone who looks at skeptical CIA analysts as gnats to be swatted away before they bite. That is why he relegated them to straphanger status during the key decision-making process in late 2009 on what to do about Afghanistan. When Obama expressed doubts about the value of a major escalation in Afghanistan, Petraeus assured him that he and his generals had it all figured out, that 33,000 additional troops would do the trick.
CIA analysts weren’t even assigned to do a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which normally is a de rigueur step before making any significant presidential decision like a large-scale escalation of a war. Remarkably, no NIE was prepared before the President’s decision to up U.S. troop levels to 100,000 in late 2009.
To his credit, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who became Director of National Intelligence in August 2010, insisted that two NIEs be prepared last fall — one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan.
The one on Afghanistan concluded that the U.S. could not prevail without a firm decision by Pakistan to interdict the Taliban along the border with Afghanistan. The one on Pakistan said, in the vernacular, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the Pakistanis would make such a decision. Ergo?
The sobering conclusions of the NIEs were supported by a treasure trove of 92,000 documents written mostly by U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 and released by WikiLeaks on July 25, 2010.
This more granular reporting from WikiLeaks laid bare the brutality and fecklessness of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan — particularly the forlorn hope that the Pakistanis will change their strategic outlook and help pull the U.S. chestnuts out of the Afghan fire. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Afghan War Leaks Expose Costly Folly."]
Good Luck Persuading Pakistan
Perhaps the most explosive revelations disclosed the double game being played by the Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Der Spiegel reported: "The documents clearly show that this Pakistani intelligence agency is the most important accomplice the Taliban has outside of Afghanistan."
The documents revealed that ISI envoys not only are present when insurgent commanders hold war councils, but also give specific orders to carry out assassinations — including, according to one report, an attempt on the life of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in August 2008.
Former Pakistani intelligence chief, Gen. Hamid Gul, is depicted as an important source of aid to the Taliban and even, in another report, as a "leader" of the insurgents. The reports show Gul ordering suicide attacks and describe him as one of the most important suppliers of weaponry to the Taliban.
Though the Pakistani government has angrily denied U.S. government complaints about Gul and the ISI regarding secret ties to the Taliban and even to al-Qaeda, the evidence certainly raises serious questions regarding what the Pakistanis have been doing with the billions of dollars that Washington has given them.
No matter. In 2009, President Obama decided to bless Gen. Petraeus’s "counterinsurgency" campaign, with U.S. Special Forces kicking down Afghan doors at night, drones terrorizing alleged "militants," and whole villages destroyed in order to "save" them from the Taliban – a truly strange way to go about winning hearts and minds.
Back stateside, U.S. intelligence analysts looked on with dismay. Those with some gray in their hair were reminded of similar failed tactics and warped intelligence assessments of the U.S. military command in Vietnam.
The Ghost of Westmoreland Past
As I watch Petraeus perform, I often see the ghost of Army Gen. William Westmoreland against whom charges of deliberate distortion and dishonesty were proven once intelligence analysts had their day in a post-Vietnam-War court of law — literally.
Back in 1967, in order to demonstrate "progress" in the war, Westmoreland ordered his intelligence officers not to go higher than 299,000 for the total count of Communists under arms in South Vietnam. The fear was that if journalists did some basic arithmetic, the body counts and "war of attrition" would all be proven a sham.
All the U.S. intelligence agencies except the Army’s agreed that the actual number of Communists under arms was almost twice that, and were soon proven tragically right during the country-wide Tet offensive in late January — early February 1968.
So, what is Petraeus’s actual estimate of the number of Taliban his forces face in Afghanistan? Is there no such estimate – or is it too secret or too embarrassing to reveal? As for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence does have an estimate of 50 to 100 — no, not thousand, just 50 to 100.
Moreover, little serious thought seems to have been given to the daunting challenge of the resupply of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In Vietnam, resupply was a piece of cake compared to the challenge of getting supplies through Pakistan, over the Khyber Pass, and into Afghanistan.
At home, Americans grouse about having to pay $4 a gallon for gasoline. It costs $400 to get a gallon into a U.S. Army or Marine vehicle inside Afghanistan.
Aside from the obscene expense, the long supply lines are extremely vulnerable — not only to attack from folks who don’t want U.S. troops in their country, but also to the caprice of Pakistani officials who can choke off the supply routes at will.
Last weekend, for example, a large crowd protesting U.S. drone strikes demanded that the attacks end in one month or demonstrators would cut off a key supply route for Western troops in Afghanistan.
The two-day protest clogged up a major road used by trucks to ferry supplies across the border.
"We will block NATO supplies from Karachi to Khyber everywhere if drone attacks are not stopped in one month," said Imran Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician, to the crowd of protesters.
Does no one remember "General Betray Us"?
"Democracy, too, is a religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses." - H.L. Mencken