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U.S. Spy Effort In Afghanistan 'Ignorant'

Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan for the U.S. military and its NATO allies, said U.S. intelligence officials there as "disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. military's intelligence chief in Afghanistan has sharply criticized the work of U.S. spy agencies there, calling them ignorant and out of touch with the Afghan people.

In a report issued by the Center for New American Security think tank, Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan for the U.S. military and its NATO allies, offered a bleak assessment of the intelligence community's role in the eight-year-old war.

He described U.S. intelligence officials there as "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced...and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."

An operations officer was quoted in the report as calling the United States "clueless" because of a lack of needed intelligence about the country.

The report, which highlighted tensions between military and intelligence agencies, urged changes such as a focus on gathering more information on a wider range of issues at a grassroots level.

Release of the report came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed seven CIA officers at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan, the second-most deadly attack in agency history. NBC News reported on January 4 that the bomber was an Al-Qaeda double-agent from Jordan, citing unnamed Western intelligence officials.

The security breach was a major blow to the CIA, which has expanded operations hunting down and killing Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan and tribal areas in neighboring Pakistan, partly through the use of unmanned drone aircraft.

The drone strikes have fueled public anger and have been sharply criticized by human rights groups.

"Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy," Flynn wrote in the report with his chief adviser, Captain Matt Pottinger.

Excessive Focus On Insurgent Groups

The report said U.S. intelligence had focused too much on gathering information on insurgent groups and was "unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade," the report said.

A revised war strategy unveiled last month by U.S. President Barack Obama calls for sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan and for expanding a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at garnering Afghan public support and sidelining a resurgent Taliban.

Instead of mounting a counterinsurgency, Flynn asserted that the intelligence community had "fallen into the trap" of waging an "anti-insurgency campaign" aimed at capturing or killing mid-to-high level militants.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, defended the focus of U.S. spy agencies on insurgents, saying: "You can't be successful at counterinsurgency without a profound understanding of the enemy."

Flynn's report said the intelligence community had enough analysts in Afghanistan but "too many are simply in the wrong places and assigned to the wrong jobs."

The report described the main problems as "attitudinal, cultural, and human," saying U.S. intelligence community had "a culture that is strangely oblivious of how little its analytical products, as they now exist, actually influence commanders."

An operations officer at one U.S. task force was quoted in the report as questioning why the intelligence community was unable to produce more information about the Afghan population. "I don't want to say we're clueless, but we are. We're no more than fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment," the officer said.