Ray McGovern on Exit From Afghanistan: An Intelligence Failure?

During a 7-minute interview today I was asked whether a lack of good intelligence accounts for the surprisingly rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

I used the opportunity to ring some intelligence-related changes on what Aeschylus wrote so long ago: "In war, truth is the first casualty." When U.S. forces are engaged in war independent intelligence analysis ranks right up there with truth as casualty.

This was abundantly clear at a critical juncture during the war in Vietnam. In 1967, an intelligence community National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on enemy strength was suppressed. Richard Helms, head of the intelligence community as well as of CIA, declared he would not dare to get into a "pissing contest" with the US Army at war. And so, the South Vietnam-wide Viet Cong offensive at Tet (Jan.-Feb. 1968) came as a disastrous surprise to folks who bought what "military intelligence" in Saigon had been saying.

Gen. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were taking no chances in early 2007 as they successfully maneuvered to prevent an NIE prior to the "surge" in Iraq. That surge cost the lives of an extra 1,000 US troops, but allowed Cheney and Bush to depart Washington without having lost a war.

In early 2009, the same two – together with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a bunch of generals – succeeded in getting Obama to surge troops into Afghanistan. No NIE needed, thank you very much.

Were there analysts in the intelligence community who foresaw how quickly the Taliban would move, cutting deals with the Afghan army and local leaders, once Gen. Kenneth McKenzie announced the end of close air support.

That, of course, was a no brainer. Did they speak up? That is irrelevant; hardly matters. Gen. McKenzie knew what he was doing. Hmm.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

16 thoughts on “Ray McGovern on Exit From Afghanistan: An Intelligence Failure?”

  1. I would call it a Character and an Integrity Failure by all three of them.

  2. Intelligent POLITICIANS are extremely rare on this Planet.
    I even go as far as to say NON-EXISTANT !!!

    1. I hate politicians but wish what you said was true. Take Obama as an example. What makes them dangerous is that they are immoral psychopaths who exploit our herd mentality.

  3. Well, the withdrawal of U.S. air support would not only have been tactically crippling, but thoroughly demoralizing for the ANA.

    They would have almost no experience fighting without training wheels. There’s simply no dealmaking in that kind of environment without enforcement capability.

    If U.S. intel was also withdrawn, the Afghan Army and Air Force would have been rendered blind and ineffectual on top of endemically corrupt and ineffectual, unable to function as the top gang in the region.

    They would panic, break and run, no longer able to fight for their lives.

    Withdrawal chaos was staged. The Biden team even ended a Trump-era enhanced evacuation program designed to avoid embarrassing crisis like Benghazi and no Kabul International Airport.


      1. Yes. Training to fight opponents such as Russia or irregular forces deep in Africa would necessitate that kind of training for U.S. regular and special forces. Air, artillery and drone support can never be on-call, all the time.

        Nor could air support be 100% in Afghanistan. However, in the final few months of the drawdown, there would have been far less ground to cover.

        Having the confidence and ability to fight without having air or even artillery support on call, would always be a priority for U.S. troops. The ANA… not sure they really had the initiative even if they had nominal training.

        Fighting without air support risks higher casualties or potential for casualties, and having to back off objectives to conserve forces.

        That Green Beret ambush in Tongo Tongo, Niger (2017), demonstrated the dangers of operating without air support and intel, even for a large group of highly trained soldiers.

        1. I’m not convinced.
          1) original use of air power was recon. Satellites are air units. Not all drones are armed, some are recon, or both.
          2) there is a big difference between ” you will have air support in 15 minutes, or 2 hours”, and, “you will be receiving no air support today, tomorrow, or, ever.”

          1. 1. Air support and especially air recon organic to infantry units isn’t far off.

            However, the basic skills for fighting without air support are not ‘obsolete’ so much as ‘less effective’.

            2. Not for nothing is the U.S. military determined to keep and expand its empire of bases.

            Drones, finally give them a reason.

  4. Thank you, Ray. I am sure the story does not end in Kabul and the next disaster is already in the works. But first, I suspect there will be a change in leadership at the top.

  5. “Intelligence Failure” A delightful mix of arrogance, hubris and stupidity. Available in unlimited quantities at a government near you.

  6. Jul 14, 2020 Afghanistan Bountygate is all about endless war & drug money

    Driven by the deep state NYT and WaPo, and how the entire hoax was less about Trump and Russia, and more to do with keeping the US in Afghanistan for the endless war machine profits and global drug trade.


  7. Seems fishy .. total air superiority, unlimited cash for information, satellites, drones, other spook tools, and this was a surprise ? Can’t buy it.

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