WASHINGTON — A new U.S. intelligence assessment of the Afghan war predicts the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if the U.S. leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.
The National Intelligence Estimate, which includes input from the country’s 16 intelligence agencies, predicts the Taliban and other power brokers will become increasingly influential as the United States winds down its longest war, according to officials who have read the classified report or received briefings on it.
The grim outlook is fueling a debate inside the Obama administration about the steps it should take as the U.S. military draws down its remaining troops.
The report predicts Afghanistan would likely descend into chaos quickly if the U.S. and Afghan governments don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international-military contingent there beyond 2014, a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to spend in Afghanistan in coming years.
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“In the absence of a continuing presence and continuing financial support,” the intelligence assessment “suggests the situation would deteriorate very rapidly,” said one U.S. official.
That conclusion is widely shared among U.S. officials working on Afghanistan, said the official, who was among five people who agreed to discuss the assessment on condition of anonymity.
Some officials have taken umbrage at the pessimism in the report, saying it does not adequately reflect how strong Afghanistan’s security forces have become.
One American official, who described the estimate as “more dark” than past intelligence assessments on the war, said there are too many uncertainties to make an educated prediction on how the conflict will unfold between now and 2017, chief among them the outcome of next year’s Afghan presidential election.
“I think what we’re going to see is a recalibration of political power, territory and that kind of thing,” said one U.S. official who believes the assessment was unfairly negative.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which issues intelligence estimates, declined to comment. In an emailed statement, a senior administration official said intelligence assessments are “only one tool in our policy-analysis toolbox.”
The Obama administration has sought to get permission from the Afghan government to keep troops that would carry out counterterrorism and training missions beyond 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign a bilateral-security agreement with the United States and has made demands that the U.S. calls unrealistic.