This Stratfor articles discusses a critical component of our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan: intelligence. At the end are links to other posts about this subject.
As usual, Stratfor gives an authorative analysis on the several dimensions of this topic. But the authors “bury the lede”, putting their most disturbing conclusions deep in the article:
The United States cannot hope to reach any satisfactory solution in Afghanistan unless it can win the intelligence war. But the damage done to the CIA in this attack cannot be overestimated. At least one of the agency’s top analysts on al Qaeda was killed. In an intelligence war, this is the equivalent of sinking an aircraft carrier in a naval war. The United States can’t afford this kind of loss. There will now be endless reviews, shifts in personnel and re-evaluations. In the meantime, the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will be attempting to exploit the opportunity presented by this disruption.
Casualties happen in war, and casualties are not an argument against war. However, when the center of gravity in a war is intelligence, and an episode like this occurs, the ability to prevail becomes a serious question. We have argued that in any insurgency, the insurgents have a built-in advantage. It is their country and their culture, and they are indistinguishable from everyone else. Keeping them from infiltrating is difficult.
This results in part from a fundamental conceptual error — pure arrogance — from the beginning of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was perfectly expressed by David Kilcullen in his famous article:
“Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.”
— “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency“, David Kilcullen, Military Review, May-June 2006
This is delusional on several levels. First, no outsider can match the knowledge of locals without many years of experience and training.
Second, it is backwards. The information advantage lies with our enemies. Thousands of people from the Middle East have studied and worked in America during the past fifty years. A larger number have some familiarity with us and our culture: have seen our movies, read our literature, or have dealt with American. Even worse, for the best of them the combination of deep familiarity plus some cognitive and emotional distance might give them perspectives on America that we lack.
Intelligence is one of our inherent weaknesses, not (as usually described) one of our advantages.
So we come to today’s feature article: “The Khost Attack and the Intelligence War Challenge“, George Friedman and Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 11 January 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
As Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi exited the vehicle that brought him onto Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, on Dec. 30, 2009, security guards noticed he was behaving strangely. They moved toward al-Balawi and screamed demands that he take his hand out of his pocket, but instead of complying with the officers’ commands, al-Balawi detonated the suicide device he was wearing. The explosion killed al-Balawi, three security contractors, four CIA officers and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) officer who was al-Balawi’s handler. The vehicle shielded several other CIA officers at the scene from the blast. The CIA officers killed included the chief of the base at Khost and an analyst from headquarters who reportedly was the agency’s foremost expert on al Qaeda. The agency’s second-ranking officer in Afghanistan was allegedly among the officers who survived.