MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. A downward spiral, that's the dismal assessment of Afghanistan in a draft report by U.S. intelligence agencies. The classified National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, won't be released until after the November election. But government officials who have reviewed it have described its contents to New York Times reporters, including Eric Schmitt, who covers terrorism and national security and who joins us now. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. ERIC SCHMITT (Reporter, New York Times): You're welcome.
BLOCK: Eric, what does this draft of the NIE say the strength of the Taliban?
Mr. SCHMITT: Well, what it says about the Taliban is that their strength is increasing, both from their safe havens that they've been operating from in Pakistan as well as within Afghanistan itself. They are conducting more and more sophisticated attacks against the United States and NATO troops in Afghanistan. They are also increasingly encroaching on parts of the central government, increasing the corruption that exists in Afghanistan.
BLOCK: And what about the role of foreign fighters within the Taliban?
Mr. SCHMITT: Foreign fighters, al-Qaeda fighters have been rolling in throughout the Taliban for many years. What's happening is, al-Qaeda is building a safe haven across the border in Pakistan so that al-Qaeda is now working more closer than ever with some of these Taliban fighters, both supporting and training them. But also, increasingly, foreign fighters are coming across the border and carrying out attacks themselves in Afghanistan.
BLOCK: It sounds like this NIE has a very grim portrait of the weakness of the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. SCHMITT: It does. It's a great concern to many policy makers we talked to. And it's also shifting attention as a result to try and bolster the strength of district and provincial governance that's there, down to the level that we are even engaging tribal leaders, something that this administration shied away from but now see as one of the last possibilities for kind of holding on and keeping the Taliban at bay.
BLOCK: This national intelligence estimate classified, as we say, it's a draft report right now, and it's a compilation of 16 different intelligence agencies put together. What are you hearing from the people who have read it about what it means for U.S. policy, and how dire a projection this is?
Mr. SCHMITT: Well, as you mentioned in the lead-in here, the operative phrases we've been told is downward spiral and that, for the first time in many years, the intelligence agencies of the United States government came together and said in the most comprehensive way that the U.S. and allies and the Afghan government are in danger in losing Afghanistan, essentially.
Mr. SCHMITT: Losing. This is not a phrase or assessment that intelligence analysts use lightly, but as Admiral Mullen, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff suggests this morning, all the trends are moving in the wrong direction, that its trend in security, economic trends, the governance trends, and, of course, the drug trade in Afghanistan, which fuels a lot of the insurgency and adds the corruption.
BLOCK: Well, that has huge implication then for the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
Mr. SCHMITT: It does. Not only for the security issue, but now, increasingly, the U.S. military and NATO are looking at how the military can step in and help or assist the counter drug efforts. The problem here is that heroine production now, which accounts for as much as half of Afghanistan's economy, proceeds of which we were told last week is much as $100 million going in to Taliban coffers. It's gotten to be - this is such a serious problem for all the other parts of the Afghan policy that the U.S. military may have to step in a larger role.
BLOCK: Couple that then with the speech made here in Washington last week by the U.S. general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan. He said that an Iraq-style surge he didn't expect would work in Afghanistan. He said they're in for a tough counter insurgency fight for some time.
Mr. SCHMITT: That's right, because of the geography, because of politics, because of the fact that there just aren't enough troops to surge in the same way that the U.S. surged in Iraq. Yes, the United States is going to be adding additional troops, but the concern here is that there is not another Afghan surge waiting to happen. I think there's a big push to try and make this more an Afghan solution long term.
BLOCK: Eric Schmitt covers terrorism and national security for the New York Times. Eric, thanks very much.
Mr. SCHMITT: Thank you.
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