Is Military Intelligence in Afghanistan Broken?

Major General Michael Flynn takes his critical report public, making waves and raising concerns

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A widely-circulating report by Army Major General Michael Flynn, the chief of military intelligence in Afghanistan, is raising serious concerns about the use of intelligence of Afghanistan. Flynn warns, "Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy." He says of failings to gather or apply useful intel, "This problem and its consequences exist at every level of the U.S. intelligence hierarchy, from ground operations up to headquarters in Kabul and the United States." The intelligence community simply "seems much too mesmerized by the red of the Taliban's cape." Released publicly through the Center for New American Security, a think tank, the report drew criticism from the Pentagon for its public release but also praise for its intellectual rigor. What does Flynn's report mean for the military and the mission in Afghanistan?

  • What Flynn Wants Spencer Ackerman translates the "scathing" report. "In other words, intelligence in Afghanistan is enemy-centric, when it needs to be population-centric, much like the military operations it supports," he writes. "[I]t focuses heavily on practical military intelligence issues. His key recommendations center on creating intelligence fusion centers around the regional commands run by NATO in Afghanistan." That is, focus more on building civil society and less on killing the Taliban.
  • ...That's Not What Obama Wants World Politics Review's Judah Grunstein explains, "[T]he recent Afghanistan strategy review, as articulated by President Barack Obama, explicitly prioritized the military targeting component of the Afghanistan war over its nation-building component. Since then, there have been some reports that the former is being taken care of by more shadowy means. But there have also been some suggesting that the military command has not yet renounced its intentions to pursue the COIN tactics that seem to fit more into the latter."
  • Why He Went Public Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks, endorsing the paper as "one of the most informative documents I've ever read on contemporary intelligence issues," explains, "the report has the effect of an order from a two-star general -- I believe that's a first in think tank history. As I understand it, the paper was released through CNAS because Gen. Flynn wanted to reach beyond his own chain of command and his own community and talk to people such as commanders of deploying infantry units about what kind of intelligence they should be demanding."
  • 'Defiance' By Military? Politico's Laura Rozen reports, "[S]ome sources suggest the possibility that the report might have been authorized by one part of the DoD (if not others)." She writes, "Also strongly suggested was the possibility that Flynn was the proxy and taking the hit for someone bigger in the field, namely Gen. Stan McChrystal, who has previously been asked by the White House to provide his advice to the president in private."
  • The Civilian-Military Divide Michael Cohen freaks out. "[O]ur own military appears to have different tactical objectives than the civilian side; military intelligence is not serving the mission appropriately and top military intel officials are going outside the chain of command to make their concerns known; our enemy appears far more formidable than we seem willing to acknowledge; our additional troops are a long way from being on the ground in Afghanistan; our military is being asked to wage pointless battles in sparsely populated areas where we have no hope of holding territory in the near-term and it's not even clear that we're actually doing population centric counter-insurgency - and if we are doing it; we're not doing a great job of it."
  • Shows Military's Dedication CNAS blogger Andrew Exum defends, writing that its part of the military's healthy internal debate on how to do the best job possible. "How an attempt to better serve civilian decision-makers gets spun into a revolt on the part of uniformed officers is, as my dad says, more twisted than color TV," he writes. "The report that Maj. Gen. Flynn published through CNAS was above all an indictment of his own branch of the U.S. Army" and not an attack on civilian leadership.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.