- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — David Petraeus, the former general who led the Afghanistan war and now heads the CIA, has ordered his intelligence analysts to give greater weight to the opinions of troops in the fight, U.S. officials said.

CIA analysts now will consult with battlefield commanders earlier in the process as they help create elements of a National Intelligence Estimate on the course of the war, to more fully include the military’s take on the conflict, U.S. officials say.

Their input could improve the upcoming report card for the war.

The most recent U.S. intelligence assessment offered a dim view of progress in Afghanistan despite the counterinsurgency campaign Petraeus oversaw there and painted a stark contrast to the generally upbeat predictions of progress from Petraeus and other military leaders. Petraeus has made no secret of his frustration with recent negative assessments coming primarily from the CIA, and said during his confirmation hearing that he planned to change the way the civilian analysts grade wars.

The CIA’s analysis makes up the bulk of national intelligence estimates, which help guide the White House and Congress in drafting future policy.

** FILE ** In this Sept. 6, 2011, file photo, new CIA director David Petraeus, right, speaks following his swearing-in ceremony with his wife Holly Knowlton Petraeus, center, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
** FILE ** In this Sept. 6, 2011, file photo, new CIA ... more >

The CIA says Petraeus‘ tweaks to the agency’s part of the assessment will add to its accuracy, not tilt the results, and that military commanders’ views were always part of the equation.

“Analytic debate and discussion haven’t been chilled; they’ve been promoted,” CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.

The change has been backed by National Intelligence Director James Clapper, another senior U.S. official said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the intelligence assessment is classified.

Petraeus took over as head of the CIA last month. He was directly in charge of the war in Afghanistan for more than a year — his last job in uniform — and oversaw the war as the head of Central Command before that. Like Iraq, Afghanistan has become a proving ground for the theories of counterinsurgency Petraeus is credited with making central to current U.S. military doctrine.

The previous U.S. intelligence assessment on Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year contradicted then-war-commander Petraeus‘ assessment. Where he saw “fragile but reversible progress,” the analysts from across the intelligence community largely reported stalemate in several parts of the country. The disagreements were highlighted in the CIA’s district by district assessments in which progress was graded geographically, with intelligence analysts seeing far less progress in key districts than did military commanders on the ground.

They emphasized a spate of assassinations by the Taliban and poor performance by the Afghan government in their report, two U.S. officials say.

Analysts also were negative about the performance of the Afghanistan security forces, whereas military commanders saw some units performing competently.

After taking the top spy job, Petraeus dispatched a top CIA official to the Afghan war zone to interview both sides to try to reconcile their differing opinions. Petraeus together with his staff concluded that those lower-level commanders on the battlefield needed to have input into the CIA process, two U.S. officials said.

In the previous process of assessing Afghan districts — which becomes a key building block of national intelligence estimates — analysts only sent their work to the top military commander, toward the end of the process. Now they’ll share their conclusions with lower-level officers earlier to give them the opportunity to assess the intelligence analysts’ conclusions and offer dissenting opinions, two officials said.

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