Spy chief says US agents in Afghanistan 'clueless'
Published 06/01/2010 | 05:00
The most senior US military intelligence officer in Afghanistan has launched a scathing attack on American information-gathering in the country.
Major General Michael Flynn described the operation as "starved" of information that could help wage a successful war against insurgents. He called for radical changes, saying that, after eight years, the US was still unable to answer "fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade.
"US intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counter-insurgency," he said.
Intelligence officers should travel at grassroots level and avoid the temptation to congregate in regional headquarters, he added.
One US operations officer complained his task force was "clueless" because it was so short of information about the area in which it operated.
"We're no more than fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment," he said.
Maj Gen Flynn said that, in a recent meeting, Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, had lamented that "our senior leaders are not getting the right information to make decisions with".
He added that analysts were "so starved for information that many say their jobs feel more like fortune-telling than serious detective work".
"It is little wonder, then, that many decision-makers rely more upon newspapers than military intelligence to obtain 'ground truth'."
The severity of Maj Gen Flynn's judgment raised questions about the three-month review US President Barack Obama carried out before deciding to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
The report was published as it was revealed that a suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents in eastern Afghanistan was an al-Qa'ida double agent.
Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old doctor, was recruited by the Jordanians and then handed over to the US secret services, who wrongly thought they had turned him. He told his handlers he could help them track down Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qa'ida's deputy leader.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer said that, according to unconfirmed reports, Zawahiri himself had ordered Balawi to carry out the attack.
Yemen sent thousands of troops into al-Qa'ida strongholds throughout the country yesterday as it launched a major counter-terrorism operation.
The government announced the drive to shut down the group's mountain and desert bases after the failed bombing of an aircraft over Detroit and threats to Western embassies.
Government officials said security forces had been sent to lawless regions in the east and south where al-Qa'ida's local affiliate, al-Qa'ida in the Arab Peninsula, is strongest.
The group has been the subject of increased attention since taking responsibility for the failed attempt to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day.
Security operations were also launched in the capital Sana'a, where the immediate threat of a terrorist strike against Western diplomatic missions appeared to have receded after two suspected al-Qa'ida members were killed on Monday.
The US embassy, which closed for two days after saying it had credible information of an imminent terrorist attack, re-opened. The British and French missions resumed work, although their doors remained closed to the public.
Yesterday's decision to deploy troops into al-Qa'ida's heartland seemed partly designed to deflect concern that the Yemeni government was too frail, corrupt and inept to counter the growing terrorist presence.
That perception was heightened when Yemeni security forces' surveillance teams lost track of six lorries filled with weapons as they entered Sana'a, although diplomatic sources suggested that the illicit cargo was probably not destined for al-Qa'ida. (© Daily Telegraph, London)