The intelligence war in Afghanistan

Source: Daily Times PK

Technologically strong western and European intelligence agencies have failed badly in gathering high quality information about the Taliban networks

Intelligence is knowledge,
knowledge that is decision-oriented and action-oriented. Intelligence has been defined in different ways and different terms including understanding, self-awareness, classified knowledge and communication. Former Director General Indian Intelligence Service (RAW), Major General VK Singh (2007) in his recent book has called intelligence the second oldest profession. Some experts view intelligence as a tool required by state policy makers to further their national interests. In his well-written book on intelligence, Michael Herman has defined intelligence as a set of permanent institutions dating back to the 19th century. Prominent British security analyst and former Director General GCHQ, Professor David Omand views intelligence differently: “Intelligence as a trade has been gradually becoming a profession over the last 100 years.” About the UK and US intelligence community, he warns, “The cry has gone up that intelligence analysts lack imagination. They failed to connect the dots that could have provided warning of terrorist attacks.”

We have numerous stories of intelligence failure and successes in peace and war but the recent stories of intelligence failure in Afghanistan need to be highlighted in detail where technologically strong western and European intelligence agencies have failed badly in gathering high quality information about the Taliban networks. The recent suicide attack on the Afghan intelligence chief, Mr Assadullah Khalid, is a big example of the failure of intelligence. This attempt came just as the Afghan president said that the US-led military was responsible for instability in his country. Afghan parliamentarians criticised the National Directorate of Security’s (NDS’s) non-professional manner of intelligence gathering: “If NDS cannot secure itself how can people expect anything from these security organisations?” MP Nazifa Zaki asked.

European, NATO, US and UK intelligence agencies in Afghanistan also criticised the way Afghan intelligence operates. The NDS in turn criticised the international community for failing to intercept the bomber reaching the meeting place. Afghan intelligence officials sharply criticised all foreign intelligence agencies for their lack of long-term coordination and intelligence sharing with the NDS. President Hamid Karzai blamed NATO for the intelligence failure and said that its intelligence system was not working properly. “The terrorist infiltration in Kabul and other provinces is an intelligence failure for us and, especially, for NATO and should be seriously investigated,” the president warned. In response to his allegations, the NATO chief warned against descending into a blame game. Afghan parliamentarians raised the question of political influence in the Afghan intelligence infrastructure.

A majority of the Afghanistan-based intelligence agencies like the CIA, MI5, MI6, Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), RAW, ISI, Australian Intelligence Secret Service (ASIS), Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch, French Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), German Intelligence (BND), MOSSAD, Chinese and Russian FBS, Iranian Ansarul Muslimeen, Al Quds Brigade and Saudi Intelligence (GIP) collect, process and retrieve low quality information from their illiterate and non-professional sources about the military and political tactics of the Taliban insurgents. General McChrystal also raised the same issue and warned about the US failure of intelligence. As a mountainous country, Afghanistan is a big challenge for civil and military intelligence agencies, therefore the Afghan government and the international community have never been able to gather intelligence information from all parts of the country about Taliban insurgents. Most parts of the country are controlled by the Taliban and are inaccessible. Intelligence agencies of rival powers have failed to collect the exact data of population movement inside Afghanistan. They cannot move out of their embassies and headquarters, therefore they mostly depend on intelligence information gathered by journalists. The recent report of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies reveals some facts about the intelligence failure in Afghanistan: “Intelligence also did not address the growing unpopularity and failure of the Afghan government, the impact of power brokers and corruption, and role of Pakistan and insurgents sanctuaries in that country.” Recently, Deputy Chief of US military intelligence in Afghanistan, Major General Michael Flynn complained about the low quality intelligence information gathered by US intelligence on the insurgents’ military tactics. The recent report of German intelligence (BND) has also revealed the secrets of US and NATO failure in Afghanistan.

Two years ago, the Taliban attack on the CIA camp in Khost province is also considered a clear proof of the US intelligence failure in Afghanistan. Some recent reports from the country indicate that the struggle between nations with double agents and their intelligence, international spy networks, arm smugglers and Taliban has entered a crucial phase. Last year, Afghan intelligence announced that an Afghan army officer was arrested on charges of cooperation with a neighbouring state and Taliban. The intelligence war in Afghanistan causes many problems not only for the US, NATO and ISAF but for Afghanistan as well. President Obama has finally accepted that the basic problem in Afghanistan is the intelligence war among nations. “We argued that establishing an effective Afghan army would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, because the Americans and their NATO allies lacked knowledge and sophistication in distinguishing friends from foe among those being recruited into the army.”

In a divided nation like Afghanistan, a single ethnic group leads the intelligence community and military in the wrong direction. The roots of Afghan intelligence are in the Northern Alliance. When Washington set up Afghan intelligence (NDS), a majority of its ranks were recruited from Panjshir province. According to The Christian Science Monitor’s recent report, the NDS officials accept that the agency knows nothing about the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.

Afghan intelligence has become ethnic-ised and sectarian-ised and according to some intelligence experts, Tajiks continue to control many of the command ranks of the Afghan security institutions, giving Pashtuns only a veneer of control of the intelligence and armed forces. Some recent reports from Afghanistan indicate that there is a lack of intelligence sharing and cooperation among allies and distrust between Afghan intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies. Finally, as the US accepted its defeat in the intelligence war in Afghanistan, The Washington Post recently reported that the Obama administration is to begin a reform process in the Pentagon. The Pentagon has ultimately failed in Afghanistan and been defeated by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in a decade-long intelligence war in Afghanistan.

The writer is author of Policing in Multicultural Britain and can be reached at

Be Sociable, Share!