Military, CIA Offer Competing Views On Afghanistan

The president is set to release an evaluation of his administration's war strategy for Afghanistan. While the administration is expected to conclude that its counterinsurgency strategy is working, there are signs of differences between the military and the intelligence community. Two reports — National Intelligence Estimates — are said to be more pessimistic about the mission.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with the war in Afghanistan. In a moment we'll get a progress report on an area of the country that was not long ago a key battleground. First, though, the view from Washington.

SIEGEL: Tomorrow, we hear from the White House on whether its war strategy is working. But President Obama is getting two different opinions from his advisers. The military says it's making progress and that the strategy is working. The intelligence community isn't so sure.

Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates just returned from Afghanistan where he hopped from one combat outpost to another.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): And I will go back convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by President Obama last year.

BOWMAN: Goals the president laid out in a West Point speech - deny al-Qaida a base in Afghanistan and turn back the Taliban's gains.

Sec. GATES: The Taliban control far less territory than they did when I spoke here one year ago. And as a result, more and more Afghan people are able to live without being terrorized.

BOWMAN: The Taliban may have less territory in contested provinces like Kandahar, but the CIA is far more worried about the territory they have across the border in Pakistan - safe havens that allow the Taliban to escape from the American military and return to fight another day. Concerns about the safe havens are outlined in two new classified papers. These national intelligence estimates were first reported by the New York Times.

Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst now with Georgetown University, says the competing views are not unusual. Intelligence analysts take a broad view, soldiers tend to look at ground taken.

Professor PAUL PILLAR (Former CIA Analyst, Georgetown University): The community of analysts sees it based on all sources of information and not just any one source of information where we have concentrated our military effort.

BOWMAN: The Pentagon's also worried about the safe havens in Pakistan. In a report to Congress, it said they are the primary obstacle to a secure and stable Afghanistan.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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