Pakistan 'must flush out Taliban'

Controversial new US intelligence reports say the war in Afghanistan cannot be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border, according to officials.

Controversial new US intelligence reports say the war in Afghanistan cannot be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border, according to officials.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and the other on Pakistan, paint a bleak picture of the security conditions and could complicate the Obama administration’s plans to report next week that the war is turning a corner.

But US military commanders have challenged the new conclusions, saying they are based on outdated information that does not take into account progress made in recent months.

The conclusions were revealed in briefings to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week and some of the findings were shared with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, officials said.

The reports, known as National Intelligence Estimates, are prepared by the Director of National Intelligence and used by policymakers as senior as the president to understand trends in a region.

The new reports are the first ones done in two years on Afghanistan and six years on Pakistan, officials said. Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the CIA would comment on either report.

The review of Afghanistan cites progress in “inkspots” where there are enough US or Nato troops to maintain security, such as Kabul and parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

But much of the rest of the country remains Taliban-controlled, or at least vulnerable to Taliban infiltration, according to an official who read the executive summary.

The report contains public opinion polling that finds Afghans are ambivalent - as willing to cut a deal with the Taliban as they are to work with the Americans, the official said.

It also shows US efforts are lagging to build infrastructure and get trained security forces to areas where they are needed. And it says the war cannot be won unless Pakistan is willing to obliterate terrorist havens in its lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The new report on Pakistan concludes that the Pakistani government and military “are not willing to do that”, says one US official briefed on the analysis.

The document says Pakistan’s government pays lip service to co-operating with US efforts against the militants and still secretly backs the Taliban as a way of hedging its bets in order to influence Afghanistan after a US departure from the region.

In describing the Afghanistan report, military officials said separate battlefield assessments by the war commander, General David Petraeus, and others contained more up-to-date and sometimes more promising accounts.

A military official familiar with the reports said the gloomier prognosis in the Afghanistan report became a source of friction as a preliminary version was passed among government agencies.

Marine general James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged the contrast between the Afghan estimate and Gen Petraeus’ reports.

“It’s a very disciplined, structured process, so it’s got a cut-off date that’s substantially earlier in the game than, say, the military review,” Gen Cartwright said in a recent interview.

He said officials would have to grapple with whether intelligence and battlefield reports were starting to diverge or whether the gloomier intelligence analysis was “more an artifact of time. Those are the questions that we’ll have to work our way through and either feel comfortable about or not feel comfortable about”.

While the intelligence assessments show Barack Obama’s administration may still be struggling to change Pakistani behaviour, former Obama war adviser Bruce Riedel disputed the hypothesis that the war cannot be won if Pakistan does not close terrorist sanctuaries.

“If the US continues to strengthen the Afghan state and army, that may force Pakistan to reconsider its support for the Taliban,” said Mr Riedel, a former CIA officer and author of the forthcoming book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America And The Future Of The Global Jihad.

Amrullah Saleh, who led Afghanistan’s spy agency from 2004 until early this year, told a Washington conference on Thursday that the key to defeating the Taliban was cutting off its support from Pakistan.

“Demobilise them, disarm them, take their headquarters out of the Pakistani intelligence’s basements,” he said.

Pakistan denies supporting the Taliban.

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