- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Elite covert warriors combing the southeastern Afghanistan landscape for terrorists complain that they lack credible intelligence reports from Washington on which to undertake raids.
Several sources within the military's special-operations community say the commandos in many cases act on intelligence they or other U.S. ground troops pick up from informants. These officials say the lack of consistent "actionable" intelligence is one reason the kill rate for al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas has dropped in recent months.
They say agencies on which they depend to provide enemy locations, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, lack reliable human sources and enough foreign-language speakers.
"The lack of language capability for the Middle East is an important factor," said a seasoned Army officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"I believe the biggest hit to collection [of intelligence] has been the policy of not recruiting sources with a history of human rights abuses or criminal activity," said the officer, who has direct ties to the special-operations community. "Anyone who tells you otherwise is a staff weenie. Why would an intelligence officer recruit someone the higher-ups will whine over for the rest of the guy's career?"
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is described by several senior administration officials as impatient with the kill rate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, where al Qaeda fighters still operate. These sources say one reason for the lull in the fighting is a lack of intelligence reports on their whereabouts.
This summer, Mr. Rumsfeld sent a classified memo to U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., ordering a new war plan. The emerging blueprint will call for using more special-operations troops and clandestine missions to find terrorists.
Mr. Rumsfeld publicly complained of the intelligence gap, although he did not tie the lack of information directly to operations in Afghanistan.
"I do worry a lot about intelligence," Mr. Rumsfeld told Pentagon employees recently. "Unfortunately, I have not we have not made many strides since I've been here in improving the intelligence take."
One way to improve the "take," the defense secretary says, is to create an undersecretary of defense for intelligence who in theory would be able to put new focus on collecting information.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the position, which has yet to be approved by Congress, would ensure that the "focus is a bit more laserlike than it tends to be" and to "see that we interact with the other intelligence agencies and with the director of Central Intelligence in a way that is more effective and more responsive and more constructive."
Yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld saw a silver lining in the lack of major captures or kills of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
"We may not be finding large numbers, but that's because we've been successful, not unsuccessful," he said at a Pentagon press conference. "We've been successful in dispersing large numbers wherever they were, and what's left are bits and scraps. And we've been arresting and detaining people in Afghanistan almost every week."
A Vietnam War Green Beret, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the situation in Afghanistan seemed much the same as in Vietnam, where commandos conducted raids into Laos to find and kill the enemy. In those days, the retired soldier said, the Green Berets' Studies and Observation Group generated much of its own intelligence and intelligence sources.
The center of gravity in Afghanistan is a camp around Kandahar in the south that is home to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force.
It is a collection of some of the world's most skilled and deadly covert warriors. With the Americans are Britons, Canadians, Germans and New Zealanders. The latter win high marks from the Americans for their prowess at navigating Afghanistan's rough terrain.
But the real headhunters are U.S. Navy SEALS and Army Delta Force soldiers who make up Task Force 11. It is their job to pursue the remaining al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Sources say it is this group that is eager to get its hands on better intelligence.
Officials suggested these skilled warriors have executed dead-of-night killings of some enemy forces casualties that are not reported to the news media.
Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday described how intelligence collection worked on the ground: "Four, five, six times a day locals are coming up to the U.S. forces in that country and saying, 'Look, come here. There's some bad guys over here. We'll point them out to you. There's a cache of weapons in here.'"
U.S. intelligence still believes its two main targets Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are alive. Mullah Omar is believed to be in his birthplace and Taliban stronghold of southeastern Afghanistan. Bin Laden is thought to be in hiding in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan.
A growing number of military planners believe bin Laden is dead, but evidence is inconclusive. The United States had not picked up a confirmed intelligence report on bin Laden since mid-December, when he seemed cornered in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan. Analysts said they believed he was either killed there or escaped capture.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide