The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, says the Afghan government controls only 30 percent of the country. His assessment came in testimony to a Senate panel Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a recent review by the U.S. intelligence community shows that the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai controls just under one-third of the country.
McConnell said most of Afghanistan is under local tribal control, while a small portion is under the control of the Taliban.
"The Taliban was able to control with the population in the area about 10, 11 percent of the country," said McConnell. "The government, on the other hand, the federal government, had about 30, 31 percent, and the rest was local control."
It was a sober assessment from the nation's top intelligence official, coming more than six years after U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and allow for the creation of a stable central government.
McConnell said the drug trade is one of Afghanistan's greatest long-term challenges.
"The insidious effects of drug-related criminality continue to undercut the abilities of the government to assert its authority, develop strong rule of law-based systems for governance, and build the economy," he said. "The Taliban, operating in poppy-growing regions of the country, gain at least some financial support through their ties to the local opium traffickers."
Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, told the Senate panel the intelligence community believes al-Qaida has expanded its support to the Afghan insurgency.
Maples said the government of Pakistan is working to crack down on the tribal areas along the Afghan border, which he says have been providing sanctuary to al-Qaida and the Taliban. But he says the effort has had little success.
"Pakistani military operations in the federally-administered tribal areas [FATA] have had limited effect on al-Qaida," said General Maples. "Pakistan recognizes the threat and the need to develop more effective counter-insurgency, counterterrorism capabilities to complement their conventional forces. Pakistan has adopted a military, political, administrative and economic strategy focused on the FATA."
Maples and National Intelligence Director McConnell appeared on Capitol Hill to discuss the intelligence community's annual assessment of worldwide threats to U.S. national security. They said al-Qaida remains a significant threat to the United States and its interests abroad.