Steve Coll writes: In late 2008, the United States intelligence community produced a classified National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan that has never been released to the public. The N.I.E. described a “grim situation” overall, according to an intelligence officer’s private briefing for NATO ambassadors.
In late 2010, there was another N.I.E. on the war. This one painted a “gloomy picture,” warning that “large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban,” the Los Angeles Times reported. This N.I.E., too, has never been published.
This autumn, intelligence analysts have again been poring over their secret district-by-district maps of Afghanistan, finding and assessing patterns. A new N.I.E. on Afghanistan is just about finished, people familiar with the latest draft told me this week. This one looks forward to 2014, when President Obama has said U.S. troops will be reduced to a minimal number, and Afghan security forces will take the lead in the war.
The new draft Afghanistan N.I.E. is a lengthy document, running about a hundred pages or more. As is typically the case, it is a synthesis, primarily written by civilian intelligence analysts—career civil servants, mainly—who work in sixteen different intelligence agencies. These days, an Estimate usually contains “Key Judgments” backed by analysis near the front of the document. There are six such judgments in the Afghanistan draft, I was told. I wasn’t able to learn what all of them were; according to the accounts I heard, however, the draft on the whole is gloomier than the typical public statements made by U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan.