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U.S. Spy Agencies ‘Pessimistic’ About Trump’s War Strategy in Afghanistan

(Last Updated On: August 31, 2018)

The U.S. military and intelligence officials are at odds over the direction of the war in Afghanistan, creating a new source of friction as President Trump and his team seek a way to end the 17-year-old conflict in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported citing American officials.

Citing people familiar with a continuing classified assessment, the Wall Street Journal said that the U.S. Intelligence officials have a pessimistic view of the conflict, while military commanders are challenging that conclusion by arguing that Mr. Trump’s South Asia strategy is working.

The divisions come as the Trump administration is sending a new U.S. general to Kabul to oversee international forces carrying the strategy that has yet to produce much measurable progress in Afghanistan. 

The report said that there is broad consensus that the trajectory of the war hasn’t significantly shifted over the year that Trump’s strategy has been in effect. 

While the official military view of Afghanistan is “cautiously optimistic,” some of these people told WSJ that the intelligence view is “cautiously pessimistic.” That has led to intensive discussions about how to frame the next assessment of the war in Afghanistan that will be presented to Mr. Trump in the coming months.

Some officials overseeing the war are concerned that a negative intelligence assessment could prompt Mr. Trump to shift course and abandon a strategy he reluctantly embraced last year that sent thousands of additional American troops to Afghanistan, the report said.

According to the report, some U.S. officials believe fighting is still at a stalemate. The infusion of new American troops, increased from 8,000 to about 14,000, may have blunted Taliban momentum in some areas, but it has not decisively turned the tide in favor of the U.S. and Afghanistan, the report said citing people familiar with the ongoing analysis.

An escalation in U.S. airstrikes has failed to seriously disrupt the Taliban’s financial lifelines; and Mr. Trump’s decision to increase the number of American troops hasn’t fundamentally altered battlefield dynamics, the report said citing the current and former U.S. officials.

The WSJ report, meanwhile, said that Afghanistan’s internal political dynamics. Partisan, regional and ethnic divisions are creating fissures as the country prepares for a presidential election next year.

That cumulative evidence is fueling the pessimistic views in the intelligence community, the report said.

According to WSJ, the U.S. Military officials have argued that more intangible benchmarks, such as the successful cease-fire in June that fueled optimism, should also be considered in evaluating the war.

The June cease-fire was a sign that the Taliban leadership was serious about peace talks, military officials told WSJ; and U.S. officials have met with Taliban political leaders at least three times since Mr. Trump took office, the report said.

The summer’s optimism has given way to grim realities in Afghanistan. Mr. Mattis said the president’s approach is working. “We think there are positive reasons to stick with the strategy, and we are going to drive this to a negotiated settlement,” he said as cited by WSJ.

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