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Gates Endorses Critique of Military Intelligence in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed a stinging critique of military intelligence efforts in Afghanistan written by the top U.S. and NATO military intelligence officer in the country. In a paper published this week, Major General Michael Flynn orders major changes to the way his operation works.

The 26-page publication called Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan says military intelligence efforts in the country over the past eight years have been "token and ineffectual," and have not provided commanders or senior leaders the information they need. It says the current intelligence gathering and analysis processes "fail to advance the war strategy and, as a result, expose more troops to danger over the long run."

The paper's authors, led by Major General Michael Flynn, the chief of U.S. and NATO military intelligence in Afghanistan, say it should be considered a directive to his subordinates on how they should reform their operations. Among the orders - send more analysts into the field and gather more information about the Afghan people, rather than focusing almost exclusively on insurgent groups. The paper says until now, many military intelligence units have been "deaf" to the population-centered approach the new Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has ordered.

It was a surprise to many in Washington for a senior military intelligence officer to write such an extensive critique and directive for public consumption, and to have it published by a private organization, the Center for a New American Security. One Pentagon official called the move "unusual," "irregular" and "a bit peculiar."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who saw the report only after it was made public, "has real reservations" about the decision to have it published by a private group. But, Morrell says Gates "found the analysis 'brilliant' and the findings 'spot on.'"

"The report itself is exactly the type of candid, critical self-assessment that the secretary believes is a sign of a strong and healthy organization," he said.

Morrell says General Flynn was asking and answering an important question.

"How do you deploy intelligence assets to achieve your objectives?" He asked. "He obviously has some very strong opinions about it. He is someone, I know, who has the respect of the secretary and the senior military command within this building. And I think he is dealing with something that is clearly critical to our success in Afghanistan," Morrell added.

Analysts say making his views and plans public could enable General Flynn to influence not only his subordinates in the field, but also troops in training, their teachers and the broader community of experts and analysts.

And James Phillips at the Heritage Foundation says the report is both timely and correct.

"I think it was a valid criticism and I think it's a long-overdue effort to reform intelligence gathering and set things right," said Phillips.

Experts note that fighting an insurgency is more about protecting the people and earning their support than about killing enemy fighters. In such a fight, James Phillips says, military commanders need to understand local power structures and relationships, and also the culture and economics of an area.

"It's like developing new kinds of antenna to feel out local conditions," he explained. "Whereas in the past military intelligence was mostly concerned with the location of enemy units. Now, it's also interested in gathering information on local civilian populations that are threatened by those enemy units," he said.

President Barack Obama says his central goal in Afghanistan is to defeat the Al-Qaida terrorist network, the Taliban and related groups. But Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says the president's new strategy also recognizes the need for the type of approach Generals Flynn and McChrystal are pursuing.

"He has recognized that to accomplish that goal you actually need to take a broader strategic approach on the ground, you need to work with the Afghan government to build up its ability to control its own territory," he said. "And that leads you down the path of building up the army and police, but also now doing what General Flynn needs to emphasize, which is understanding better and from the ground up the nature of the entire population," O'Hanlon said.

General Flynn and the paper's other two authors, a lower-ranking military officer and a senior Pentagon civilian intelligence official - both also in Afghanistan, did not respond to requests for interviews for this report. Their paper describes the intelligence community as the brains behind the might of a military force. They say it must build a system to deliver solid, broad-based, useful information all the way from the corners of Afghanistan to the power centers of Washington. If it doesn't, they warn, the United States risks expending its energy fighting the wrong fight the wrong way, and perhaps losing a to an enemy it could "outsmart" if key leaders had the right information.