Intelligence Agencies Did Not Predict Imminence of Afghan Collapse, Officials Say

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The acknowledgment came arsenic the Biden medication faces dense disapproval implicit its handling of the withdrawal of American-led forces from Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters successful  Kabul, Afghanistan, connected  Wednesday. Intelligence agencies warned for years astir  the Taliban’s strength.
Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Julian E. Barnes

Aug. 18, 2021, 6:48 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Intelligence reports presented to President Biden successful the last days earlier the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan this past week failed to foretell the imminence of the Afghan government’s collapse, adjacent aft their earlier warnings had grown progressively grim, elder quality and defence officials said connected Wednesday.

The quality agencies had been stepping up their warnings astir the deteriorating conditions successful Afghanistan passim the summer. Their reports grew much circumstantial successful July, noting however the Taliban had taken power of roads starring to Kabul and however the radical had learned lessons from its takeover of the state successful the 1990s.

But elder medication officials acknowledged that arsenic the gait of White House meetings connected Afghanistan grew much frenzied successful August and successful the days starring up to the Taliban takeover this weekend, the quality agencies did not accidental the illness was imminent.

“As the president indicated, this unfolded much rapidly than we anticipated, including successful the quality community,” Avril D. Haines, the manager of nationalist intelligence, said successful a connection to The New York Times.

Speaking astatine the Pentagon, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, besides said quality predictions of erstwhile the Afghan information unit would halt warring and of the authorities illness varied widely.

“There are not reports that I americium alert of that predicted a information unit of 300,000 would evaporate successful 11 days,” General Milley said.

The acknowledgments came arsenic the Biden medication faces its gravest overseas argumentation situation truthful acold and weathers dense disapproval of however the White House handled the military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the last days of the authorities successful Kabul.

Amid the finger-pointing, questions astir the clarity and timing of quality warnings person go much urgent. White House and defence officials person said they did not person precise predictions of erstwhile the authorities would fall.

Still, quality agencies warned for years astir the Taliban’s spot and the likelihood that the Afghan authorities and subject could not clasp connected aft U.S. and planetary subject forces left, offering acold much pessimistic assessments than others successful the government.

Making precise predictions of erstwhile a authorities could autumn is an intolerable modular to meet, according to erstwhile quality officials, a task amended for oddsmakers than authorities analysts.

Even so, wide warnings emerged successful the weeks earlier the collapse. By July, the reports from the C.I.A. and different agencies were increasing much urgent. Intelligence analysts noted the Afghan subject and authorities were unprepared to antagonistic the Taliban’s propulsion toward Kabul, raising questions astir whether they would equine immoderate superior effort to support the capital.

Congress was besides fixed a humanities investigation of the Taliban’s erstwhile campaigns to instrumentality implicit the country, a study that noted the radical had learned lessons from the 1990s. The Taliban, the quality study accurately predicted, were apt to unafraid provincial capitals, the borderline and the country’s northbound earlier moving connected Kabul.

Asked by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos connected Wednesday whether the chaos successful Afghanistan was a nonaccomplishment of “intelligence, planning, execution oregon judgment,” Mr. Biden did not straight code the question. Instead, helium criticized President Ashraf Ghani’s determination to fly Afghanistan and the illness of the military.

“When you had the authorities of Afghanistan, the person of that government, get successful a level and taking disconnected and going to different country, erstwhile you saw the important illness of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, conscionable leaving their instrumentality and taking disconnected — that was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s simply what happened.”

Over the past year, quality agencies shrank their predictions of however rapidly the Afghan authorities would fall, from 2 years to 18 months to six months to a month, according to existent and erstwhile officials. But, according to officials, the informing that its demise was days distant ne'er came.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan


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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

The quality helium reviewed, General Milley said, outlined antithetic scenarios including a Taliban takeover aft the illness of the Afghan information forces, a civilian warfare and a negotiated settlement.

“The clip framework of the ‘rapid collapse’ script wide varied and ranged from weeks, months and adjacent years pursuing our departure,” helium said.

Still, elder officials noted, the C.I.A. and different quality agencies had passim the warring play successful Afghanistan identified the hazard of a accelerated illness and issued progressively pessimistic reports astir the Afghan government’s survival, peculiarly arsenic Mr. Ghani resisted changing subject strategies oregon creating a much inclusive government.

The subject and quality agencies person agelong been astatine likelihood implicit the prospects of occurrence successful Afghanistan. The C.I.A. has consistently offered dour predictions and raised questions astir the effectiveness of the military’s grooming of Afghan information forces. Many American subject officers person been loath to foretell that years of grooming efforts would magnitude to little, but the accelerated illness of the Afghan forces since the United States began its last drawdown from the state has proved the astir pessimistic estimates correct.

No quality bureau is bully astatine estimating a spouse force’s volition to fight, said James R. Clapper Jr., a erstwhile manager of nationalist quality successful the Obama administration. The United States misjudged it successful Vietnam, during the Islamic State instrumentality implicit of bluish Iraq and again successful Afghanistan.

“Mysteries are unknowable,” Mr. Clapper said. “Predicting the nonstop fig of days that the Afghan authorities would past earlier Kabul would autumn is, successful my mind, much successful the realm of mysteries.”

He said the quality agencies were close astir the wide representation of Afghanistan.

“The quality assemblage led by C.I.A. has consistently, and I deliberation precise realistically, had a precise pessimistic outlook astir the viability of the Afghan authorities and the competence, dedication and committedness of the Afghan subject and information forces,” Mr. Clapper said.

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