Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Bill Gertz reports on intelligence leading up to the Taliban attack at COP Keating, Kamdesh Afghanistan.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. recently testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that there were three intelligence reports indicating Taliban forces were preparing to attack a remote U.S. combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, according to defense officials.

Gen. Burgess appeared before a closed-door meeting of the committee on Oct. 22 and was asked by senators about the advance warning of a Taliban attack, first reported in The Washington Times, and whether the intelligence warnings were ignored.

About 100 Taliban fighters carried out the attack on the outpost near the town of Kamdesh on Oct. 3 in what U.S. Army spokesmen said was a surprise strike that left eight U.S. soldiers dead.

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Democratic and Republican spokesmen for the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment, citing rules limiting discussion of closed-door committee meetings.

A DIA spokesman also declined to comment.

One official said the reports indicate that there was an intelligence failure by analysts who he suspects were “waiting for the smoking-gun report from technical systems.”

“The bottom line is that in spite of all our intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been surprised twice by massed Taliban forces in a pre-planned attack against two of our outposts,” the official said. “That begs the question of whether we have a problem of analysis.”

Partially declassified intelligence reports revealed that in the period before the Oct. 3 battle, a new Taliban subcommander in Kamdesh named Ghulan Faroq had been appointed and was in charge of attacking Combat Outpost Keating. The reports also indicated that days before the attack, insurgent fighters in Kamdesh were resupplied with ammunition for large-caliber guns.

Commentary & Analysis

One year and nine months ago we discussed the claim made by General Rodriguez, apparently relying on Army intelligence, that the Taliban were focusing on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan and thus there wouldn’t be a Taliban spring offensive in 2008.  We predicted otherwise, and quite obviously defense intelligence got it wrong while we got it right.  Reinforcing this analysis several months later, Colonel Pete Johnson said that the notion of a Taliban spring offensive was a myth that was going to be debunked.  Yet there has been a spring offensive every year, with the security situation in Afghanistan continuing to degrade and the Taliban controlling more and more of both the terrain and the population.

In our analysis of the Battle of Wanat we pointed out that the AR 15-6 Investigation and Findings of Wanat pointed towards intelligence failures in the time leading up to the battle.

One key breakdown in force protection pertained to intelligence. Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership. But the enlisted ranks included men who knew what was coming. Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan. “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.  In fact, there had been daily reports of 200-300 fighters massing to attack COP Bella in the first 10 days of July before transfer of operations to VPB Wanat

We have also discussed in detail the Taliban massing of troops, bringing at times near half-Battalion size forces to bear on U.S. troop garrisons as a favorite tactic.

Nuristan

Now regarding the Taliban attack at Combat Outpost Keating at Kamdesh, Afghanistan, we learn that defense intelligence had three reports of imminent danger but failed to act on this intelligence.  What “smoking gun report” would have convinced them to take action we aren’t told in the Gertz investigation, but it’s important not to get buried in the details of the specific intelligence failure.

This failure is part of a larger problem in defense intelligence.  The problem is both significant and consequential.  It is significant in that it points to a systemic problem, and consequential in that the affects range from denying the presence of a Taliban offensive to the deaths of nine Soldiers at Wanat and eight at Kamdesh.

The point is granted that this administration is at war with the CIA.  But issues at the tactical level, e.g., Taliban massing of forces, imminent attacks, etc., must be acted upon without reference to certainty.  Intelligence is meant to be shared, and if further verification and validation is needed, the proper assets must be deployed to address the need.

I have previously weighed in on the cult of special forces advocating a shift away from (the current fad of) replacing kinetic operations by infantry with Special Operations Forces.  But regarding the proper use of special operators (as I see it), this is an instance of ideal application of several Rangers assigned to and embedded with infantry platoons.  Recon missions based out of the smaller COPs might add to the local intelligence rather than having to rely on electronic and technological verification of other intelligence information.

In any case, just as we are attempting to define the boundary conditions for riskless war, our Army intelligence is attempting to craft riskless analysis.  There is no such thing, and in the mean time, we are failing our Soldiers and Marines in the field at the tactical and personal level.



  • Warbucks

    Thank you for included the map. It takes extra effort and is very helpful.

  • davod

    ” Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership.”

    How does this compare to recent “Senior” State Department hire Matthew Hoh’s comments that the Afghanis do not want us there.

  • Warbucks

    Intuitively military planners tend to get the future right. The larger question is, do we create our own self-fulfilling prophecy…. speaking in general terms, as I am not qualified beyond that.

    Just like most of us, our intuition, when we listen to it, tends to be right on.

    Who among us, did not see this push to the boarder coming in through Afghanistan who follows Herschel’s blog. We tend to get it right when we look ahead. We see the most likely scenarios.

    While we all want to be peacemakers isn’t it true that we all end up usually creating more war not less. And it’s not like having to have the last word. Oh no, this is far greater and deeper. It’s having to win because loosing is unthinkable.

    Loosing means being perceived as weak and laying ourselves open to attack as a nation because we seem weak, and that’s where would-be enemies always, always, always misjudge Americans.

    It’s that Christian culture-thing we lug around, wanting to give a second and third and fourth and fifth chances to would-be enemies.

    At first we are seen as naïve, weak, over-weight, self-indulgent, materialistic, decadent, without will or backbone and they attack us as they try to be just like us and find for one reason or another it doesn’t work out for them. They say every generation has to learn. When it is realized they can’t be just like us, they hate us. They wouldn’t think of changing anything in their own culture, it’s easier to hate.

    But Americans, we have the Christian-thing we lug around. Yes, it’s still pretty much a Christian country. Step outside the big city lights sometimes not more than 200-feet, and you enter a different culture with old country values still hold, where oral contracts and a hand shake still count, where little congregation churches and old grave yards line the country road sides. When the country is at war these are usually the backbone people that builds our forces.

    Sometime I don’t like what intuition tells me is the most likely scenario. Pakistan has to deliver credible results against the Taliban. No more of this playing the dumb-Americans for Pakistan’s quarterly payoff from our over-paid entrenched, professional politicians living inside the beltway….God do we need term limits…. It’s down to the live or die phase for Pakistan as a country. They just don’t know it yet. Either they fight terrorism or they loose their country to a UN sanctioned invasion force as the Taliban captures nukes in Pakistan control.

    If Roosevelt needed a Pearl Harbor on top of his not-on-my-watch peace pledge, this tele-promted President may need a captured nuke inside Pakistan. Oh well, that changes things now, and I need to go to war and get into this fight.

    Most likely we are not going to tolerate another cease fire while Osama bin Laden cuts deals with warlords, packs up his mules and hustles out of town again.

    Here’s the bad part of the most likely scenario, we are going to have to arm and materially support Pakistan to a degree that will make India nervous and risk a greater war and the only way Americans will buy into such a scheme is if the Pakistani’s intentionally allow the Taliban to reach nuclear weapons facility. Pakistan seems well on the way to allowing just that. That will trigger then end game on a much larger scale.

    Our young President needs to get into this fight in such a way that he ups the anti without nukes being captured. Not only give the Generals their 40,000 men, but demand battlefield body-counts of enemy dead from Pakistan and arm them to the hilt. We press in from the west through Afghanistan and Pakistan presses in from the East into the Frontier region. And we are “invited” to into Pakistan to help and validate.
    The Taliban body count will need to be so high that the otherwise admirable and noble Pashtun people and their 5000+ year old culture will be jarred so deeply at its core, that their senior Jurga will rethink their noble, ancient, cultural practices of granting hospitality to the likes of terrorists…. a custom which has never failed them before over the past 5000 years and they do not anticipate the weak American will prove to be more than a short term nuisance of perhaps a year or two longer. The Jurga must be given pause to reconsider.

    Intuitively, that’s the most likely scenario. Are there others? Maybe. We need to think on it.

  • jbrookins

    Here is the key paragraph.

    Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.

    We don’t trust our human intelligence people to make a call. We rely way too much on sigint more than anything. If it’s not in a signal some don’t think it’s real. It’s as if someone can’t lie over the radio or phone. Humm

    Anyway my two cents, which is probably what it’s worth.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    I think you’re right on target John. It’s an issue of trust … and CYA.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » The Media, the New Media and U.S. Intelligence


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Army,Department of Defense,Featured,Intelligence and was published November 2nd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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