Report: Afghanistan In Downward Spiral

A new report says Afghanistan is in danger of falling prey to Taliban influence yet again. The report, to be released by major U.S. intelligence agencies after the election, cites a breakdown in Afghani leadership and a steady increase in violence from militants as well as corruption.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, we go to one of the places that's going to decide the election, and we take a look at the numbers.

BRAND: But first, Afghanistan is in serious trouble. According to a classified government report, that country is in a downward spiral. Mark Mazzetti writes about this in today's New York Times. He spoke to people familiar with the report. It's a forthcoming national intelligence estimate that won't be released until after the election. And Mark, what does this report, say?

Mr. MARK MAZZETTI (National Security Correspondent, New York Times): We talked to several government officials, more than half-dozen government officials who had seen a draft of the report that chronicles not only the rise in violence in the country but extreme levels of corruption inside the central government of President Hamid Karzai. As well as something else that has been well documented, the safe haven in Pakistan that's creating sort of the atmosphere for these attacks to occur.

BRAND: Now, let's talk about Hamid Karzai. He's a staunch American ally, in fact, practically installed by the Bush White House as the president of Afghanistan. There was a report in your paper over the weekend that said his brother is involved in heroin smuggling, and that that's part of the corruption of this government. What does the report say about that and about Hamid Karzai?

Mr. MAZZETTI: We don't know whether the report itself discusses Ahmed Wali Karzai's role in the drug trade. It certainly does talk about the role of the drug trade, the heroin trade, in fueling corruption at the central government in Kabul, as well as provincial governments. It's kind of our understanding that the report does tread lightly when it's talking specifically about Mr. Karzai himself.

But certainly, senior level officials in the government in Kabul are, I believe, singled out in the report as subjects of corruption, and it's a situation that I think in Washington, increasingly, people are disillusioned with Mr. Karzai and his inability to handle the corruption as well as get a hold of this central government that, as you said, the U.S. very much installed.

BRAND: Now, the effect being what? That the Taliban have more power now than ever before or at least since 2001?

Mr. MAZZETTI: The Taliban is encroaching on wider swathes of territory in south and east Afghanistan. And what the report talks about is the inability of central governments - institutions like the army and the police force to deal with that encroachment. And that's what has people very much concerned in Washington, is sort of how to arrest the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan.

And I think, increasingly, people are looking at a solution that they'd long resisted, which is turning to tribal leaders, working directly with tribes, the jirga system, and possibly even arming tribal militias to deal with the Taliban. The feeling had always been, well, we need to build up central government institutions, build up the army, build up the police force. This is going to be the solution against the Taliban. But I think a lot of people are wondering whether that is going to work.

BRAND: So something similar to what was done in Iraq?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Yes, and to be sure it - they will continue to build up the army, but there's an acknowledgment that, in the vast majority of Afghanistan, the government doesn't have much influence or authority. So they then say, OK, so what institutions do? And it's the tribal system, and that's the feeling is that, we need to work more and more with the tribal leaders.

BRAND: It's not a surprise, though, that things are bad in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus said recently that large parts of the country have not seen progress, and the CIA has been warning for years that there's increasing violence and corruption and all that and that the Taliban are ascendant. Why has it taken so long for the administration to act?

Mr. MAZZETTI: The significance of this moment is that there's finally acknowledgment across the U.S. government that the situation is bad and getting worse. I think that, not only with Afghanistan, but with Pakistan, it really took until this summer for the senior members of the Bush administration to acknowledge the problem, not only with the safe haven in Pakistan, but the questions about the Pakistani intelligence service aiding militia groups, militants in the tribal areas.

It is a huge problem that a lot of people have been warning about, but there's not been necessarily a whole lot of high-level attention. And there's one person who works on Afghanistan issues told me, he said, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is you finally - is that things finally start to move. And he says, things are finally starting to move.

Now, you had this high-level review at the White House to try to overhaul Afghanistan policy. So it is certainly late, but many people feel that there's one last chance to, at least, get things in the right direction before the end of the Bush administration.

BRAND: Mark Mazzetti is national security correspondent for the New York Times. Thanks, Mark.

Mr. MAZZETTI: Thanks very much.

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