The United States’ top intelligence official believes the military conflict in Afghanistan will likely deteriorate in the coming years, even if the U.S. commits more troops to the 16 year-old fight.
Speaking Thursday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the Taliban is likely to make gains in rural regions while the government is being undermined by the country’s “dire economic situation.”
“Intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners,” he said.
Coats said Afghanistan is likely to struggle to curb its dependence on foreign support until it can either contain the insurgency or reach a peace agreement with the Taliban, though he said he is not optimistic about the Afghan military’s ability to defeat its enemies.
“Afghan security forces’ performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, combat casualties, desertions, poor logistic support and weak leadership,” he said.
President Donald Trump is reportedly weighing whether to send as many as 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops stationed in the country.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump has asked military advisers "to relook at the entire strategy" in Afghanistan.
Trump is expected to make a decision on the plan sometime in the coming days.
North Korea, Russia
In addition to the situation in Afghanistan, Coats said North Korea is becoming an “increasingly grave national security threat” as leader Kim Jong-Un takes a more aggressive approach to the U.S. and attempts to improve his country’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities.
“North Korea updated its constitution in 2012 to declare itself a nuclear power. And its officials consistently state, ‘nuclear weapons are a basis for a regime survival,’ suggesting Kim does not intend to negotiate them away,” Coats said.
Coats said Russia is "likely to be more aggressive towards the United States" in the coming years and will likely use its military intervention in Syria and the threat from the Islamic State group to expand its role in the Middle East.
"Russians have spread across the globe," he said.
Coats told the committee his organization is “still assessing the impact” of Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election but the intelligence community hasn’t yet “put a grand strategy together” to deal with the issue moving forward.
Coats said he spoke recently with Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic, who told him Russia was now attempting to interfere in that country’s elections after it joined NATO earlier this year.