WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies conclude in a draft report that Afghanistan is in a downward spiral and they doubt whether the Kabul government can stem the Taliban’s rise, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The classified report says corruption inside President Hamid Karzai’s government and an increase in attacks by militants operating from Pakistan have accelerated the breakdown in central authority in Afghanistan, the Times said, citing U.S. officials familiar with the document.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said intelligence agencies had been asked to have a close look at Afghanistan, but said she had not seen the report. The White House said the document, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, had not been finalized.
“Afghanistan is a difficult place. It has made progress since 2001. We have all talked about new circumstances that have arisen there and we are doing a review to look to see what more we can do,” Rice told reporters.
Agencies across the U.S. government, including the State Department and Pentagon, have launched a review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government.
“We are looking also at what we can do to be both supportive of the ministers that President Karzai has put up. We are looking to see where some of the strengths are and how we need to support those strengths and also how we can help the Afghans where there are weaknesses,” Rice said.
The New York Times said the estimate, or NIE, is set to be finished after the November elections and will be the most comprehensive U.S. assessment in years on Afghanistan.
An NIE is a formal document that reflects the consensus judgments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, often based on separate intelligence reports previously given to policymakers.
Most NIEs remain classified. A senior official said last month estimates for many parts of the world were being updated for use by the next U.S. president, who will take office in January.
Intelligence agencies declined to discuss the new report, but a U.S. counterterrorism official said: “We’ve been saying for some time that the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border are a source of serious concern. That’s where a lot of terrorists who wish us and our allies harm are holed up and are involved in training and planning for terrorist operations.”
The Pentagon has also voiced concern about deteriorating security in Afghanistan, where an intensifying insurgency in recent months has helped make the country deadlier than Iraq for U.S. troops.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress a month ago he was not convinced the U.S.-led effort was winning in Afghanistan. He and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said more development and investment aid are needed to buttress security operations.
Beyond the cross-border attacks launched by militants from Pakistan, the intelligence report asserts that many of Afghanistan’s most vexing problems are of the country’s own making, the Times quoted the officials as saying.
The report cites gains in the building of Afghanistan’s army. But the officials said it also laid out starkly what it described as the destabilizing impact of the booming heroin trade, which by some estimates accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan’s economy.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said on Wednesday that negotiations with some members of the Taliban could provide a way to reduce violence in sections of Afghanistan gripped by the intensifying insurgency.
Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq who is credited by U.S. officials with saving that country from civil war, is scheduled to take over U.S. Central Command on October 31. In his new post, he will oversee American military interests across the Middle East and into South and Central Asia.
Additional reporting by David Morgan, Randall Mikkelsen and World Desk Americas; editing by Mohammad Zargham
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