Friday, September 25, 2009

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s new report on Afghanistan discusses the complex environment in Afghanistan and highlights the difficult decisions that need to be taken to win. Missing from the growing debate over the McChrystal report is the importance of obtaining excellent intelligence to manage the risk to our troops and to ultimately succeed.

We are concerned that the Obama administration’s war with the U.S. intelligence community is denying our troops the intelligence they need and is placing them at an unjustifiable and unnecessarily greater risk. This mismanagement of intelligence raises questions about how the Obama administration is managing the overall operation in Afghanistan. It leads us to question how we justify keeping our troops there.

Recognize that August was the deadliest month for our troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban has made major advances over the last year. Many U.S. and coalition forces have been killed through the Taliban’s expanded use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and larger-scale ambushes. For our troops to succeed and protect themselves, it is urgent that we step up our intelligence collection. Regrettably, Obama administration policies are undermining the collection of intelligence against terrorist activities worldwide, but especially in Afghanistan.

For example, the risk of being investigated and prosecuted for working on counterterrorism programs is causing CIA officers to flee from such jobs or leave the CIA entirely. This was made clear by a bipartisan Sept. 18 letter from seven former CIA directors. It noted the “distraction and devastating impact” that reopening an investigation into enhanced interrogation of al Qaeda suspects is having on “CIA morale, America’s counterterrorism efforts and our foreign intelligence partnerships.”

Moreover, in the last 60 days, we have heard about U.S. personnel in Afghanistan reading “Miranda rights” to enemy fighters, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, a practice that will make questioning of these suspects to obtain intelligence on terrorist planning difficult if not impossible.

Despite the effectiveness of CIA interrogation of senior al Qaeda suspects, last August President Obama stripped the CIA of responsibility for such interrogations and handed it to an interagency team to be led by the FBI and monitored by the White House. This multiagency interrogation bureaucracy will be restricted to using interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual. It is certain to be much less effective in obtaining crucial and timely intelligence needed to protect our troops.

Congress, too, has contributed to undermining the morale of CIA officers, especially the speaker of the House, who has accused CIA officers of being pathological liars. And we all know it is only a matter of time before Washington backroom discussions of prosecuting those involved in Predator drone strikes becomes the next round of congressional investigations.

These unfair attacks on the CIA are impeding its ability to obtain crucial counterintelligence information. The consequences for our troops in Afghanistan are obvious: Less intelligence will mean more American casualties.

We are also seeing other changes in strategy by the Obama administration to avoid civilian casualties that may have contributed to U.S. combat deaths. We may have seen the consequences of this when four U.S. Marines were killed on Sept. 8 in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, when they were pinned down by enemy fire but reportedly were denied air and artillery support.

This new shortsighted policy puts American forces at risk by surrendering our most important advantage over the enemy - our ability to attack from the air. We are witnessing firsthand how poor intelligence and poor tactics can lead to deadly results in an armed conflict. We need excellence, not mediocrity.

The bottom line: The security situation is deteriorating. Obama intelligence and military tactics are endangering our troops on the ground. There is no demonstrated presidential commitment to winning. Victory is impossible unless all the instruments of national power are brought to bear: intelligence to arm our men and women against the threat; close air support to defend when they are trapped; political support when they are fighting an unpopular war. Given these conditions, can we support keeping American military men and women in Afghanistan?

The answer is no. If the Obama administration’s priority isn’t providing our troops with the tools to do the job and win, we shouldn’t be there.

The president’s current strategy cannot lead to victory. Failure in Afghanistan will have grave consequences to our nation. But we must be honest about the likely consequences of our president’s decisions. Victory requires that we invest in our military and that we invest in the tools that enable our men and women in the armed forces to prevail.

Intelligence is a linchpin of success in any counterinsurgency environment. If the president decides to commit additional troops - clearly necessary to military victory - he will only handicap them if he does not free our intelligence community to do its job.

Either America is committed to victory, or we must resign ourselves to failure. If failure is the consequence of Mr. Obama’s policies, we must honestly ask whether we can responsibly dispatch American troops to fight a war their leadership is not committed to win.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan is the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Rep. John Shadegg is an Arizona Republican.

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