President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States will start bringing home U.S. troops next month. His announcement is part of a gradual scaling back of American operations and ambitions in Afghanistan that’s expected to emphasize raids over governance, making tracking Afghan culture and bolstering the government less important, three current officials in Afghanistan said.
In early 2010, now-retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s mission was to keep the population safe, in addition to the traditional hunt-the-enemy role. That meant understanding enough about a town or village to know whether the insurgency was best combated by killing a key leader, giving out loans to build a factory and provide jobs, or in many cases both, according to a senior intelligence official in Afghanistan.
The drawbacks of focusing solely on the enemy were laid out in a paper published by then-senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn. He called his work “Fixing Intel” and he bypassed traditional Pentagon channels to get it published by a Washington think tank.
After publication, Flynn put in place new layers of collection and analysis that included the Stability Operations Information Centers, whose staff members function like news reporters. They travel to field locations to collect intelligence that others didn’t have time to share with the rest of the NATO-led effort.
Analysts also gathered “atmospherics.” They asked Afghans what the man on the street was talking about, trying to get a sense of everything from sentiment about Karzai to whether they believed NATO troops were staying beyond 2014.
Flynn also championed the Human Terrain System, which uses anthropologists to study village and social networks throughout Afghanistan.
Most important, intelligence officials say, was his move to build district-by-district assessments to provide an encyclopedia of information readily available to the troops in the field.
Flynn left last fall. His successor, Fogarty, reorganized those three components — the information centers, atmospherics, and human terrain — into one location, at a base outside NATO headquarters.
That move was seen by some who had helped Flynn establish those operations as a rejection of the need for social, civil and tribal intelligence. They also pointed to a turnover in leadership at some of the stability centers and the dismantling of one center in eastern Afghanistan.
Flynn remains influential. He was just promoted to the three-star rank and appointed to a high position advising the director for national intelligence. One of Flynn’s co-authors, Marine Corps Capt. Matt Pottinger, says his paper “Fixing Intel” is all but required reading at military intelligence courses.
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