The Jan. 5 report from the Department of Defense’s chief intelligence office predicted that the Taliban were poised to “irrevocably re-establish their authority over certain parts of Afghanistan.” This was not hyperbole; if anything, the intelligence community did underestimate the momentum of a resurgent Taliban.
This was a clear case of underestimating the enemy. From December 2015 to December 2016, it has been an open secret that the military had moved its focus from defeating ISIS in Afghanistan to stabilizing Afghanistan through the eradication of the Taliban.
The Taliban clearly understands the tenuous relationship that the United States has with their jihadist counterparts in Afghanistan, as evidenced by their attempt to use the Manchester concert bombing as part of their outreach campaign to justify an alliance.
Remember, the Taliban is funded, trained, armed and advised by Pakistan and Iran. It is in a race with Iran, which is slowly concluding its decades-long war with India for regional dominance. With an increased Iranian nuclear capability, the Taliban hopes to fill Iran’s military gap by providing itself as the “indispensable state” on its border. But today the Taliban doesn’t have a stake in their conflict in India: India is far from an existential threat to Pakistan, and they have zero strategic relationship with India, but Iran does.
A new report by the Council on Foreign Relations identifies the US failure to see and accept the power and influence of Iran in Afghanistan. The information in this report finds that Iran maintains a presence in Afghanistan that is “unique” to Iran’s influence in other countries in the region. This is, in part, due to a mysterious network of Shiite militias, trained and armed by Iran. As a result, the development of Shiite militias in Afghanistan has been a significant success for Iran.
According to the CFR report, Iran has an ambitious plan to expand its influence in Afghanistan.
“With the expansion of Shiite militias—a long-term plan by Iran—does the United States have the capacity to create an effective counterweight?” the report asks. “Significant obstacles to a security deal are obvious, not least the US military’s clear perception that the major actors in Afghanistan still do not view U.S. interests as identical to those of Iran.”
The Pentagon’s public report acknowledges that the Taliban “failed to capture land gained” by the Afghan army and police during the spring fighting season. In recent months, there has been a marked increase in coordinated attacks, the highest at 14 percent this year.
Despite these success, and despite Taliban’s routing of Afghan police and military in most provinces, U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan continue to indicate that the Islamic State will not pose a threat to the U.S. homeland in the foreseeable future.
However, the people of Iraq and Syria are losing their lives every day to the Islamic State, and the military analysts of the Council on Foreign Relations have observed that the U.S. is making another serious misjudgment of the capabilities of the Islamic State.
Worse, the military sector of the military’s Counterterrorism Center continues to become more and more reliant on predictability for decision-making, only relying on intelligence from vetted analysts when there is genuine danger of imminent, active military action. Even that tool can, of course, be misinterpreted by the group holding power.
The U.S. is a world power, and most Americans expect that our military and intelligence leadership are truly experts in their fields. But failing to do the right thing does not mean the U.S. will face a stalemate in Afghanistan. The U.S. can win or lose the war, but not in the certainty of having a unified country.
That’s a war that the U.S. intelligence agencies have not predicted correctly.
Futurism is the name of an upcoming book by Jonathan Cahn, a global security, counter-terror and prophetic thinking expert based in California and The Old Sock. Find out more about him at nati.me/yOzbS.