Much of Afghanistan remains at risk of falling to the Taliban, according to two new classified intelligence reports that portray Pakistan as unwilling to stop its secret support for militants who mount attacks from its tribal areas, American media reported Wednesday.
The National Intelligence Estimates offer a more negative assessment than a review of the U.S. war strategy that the Obama administration is set to unveil on Thursday.
The intelligence reports -- one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan -- say that although there has been progress in the war, Pakistan's unwillingness to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle, The New York Times reported.
The estimates, which represent the collective view of more than a dozen intelligence agencies, were the subject of a recent closed hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The gloomy analysis of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the estimates contrasts sharply with recent remarks by U.S. officials, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who said after visiting the region last week that he is convinced the war strategy is working.
"It certainly makes one wonder," one congressional official said of the disconnect between the intelligence community and the military.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed off on a draft of the White House review after meeting with his top security advisers, spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The review will say that "there has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan," Gibbs said, and that "we've seen greater cooperation over the course of the past 18 months with the Pakistani government."
The spokesman noted a greater Pakistani willingness to support security
effort along the restive Afghan border region. "We have seen over the course of many months an increased willingness to cooperate from
the Pakistanis. But as you saw in both -- youll see in this review and in reports that have been sent up I think early fall, late last summer, that there are things that we still need Pakistan to continue to cooperate with us more on and continue to do in order to prevent
further safe havens from impacting the progress that ultimately can be made in Afghanistan," he said.
It will point to problems, including "the ongoing challenge and threat of safe havens in Pakistan," he said.
Declining to be named discussing classified material, U.S. officials confirmed key findings in the intelligence estimates.
It's unclear to what extent the intelligence estimates examined the impact of the CIA's increased use of Predator drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.
In concluding that the Taliban sanctuaries in those areas remain intact, the reports suggest that drone strikes have not been sufficient to stop militants from staging attacks against NATO forces.
A U.S. official, cited in newspaper reports, maintained that CIA operations in Pakistan, a euphemism for drone strikes, have greatly degraded military safe havens in Pakistan during the past two years.
"They're making a hell of a difference," and "have saved numerous American lives," he said.
Obama, who sent 30,000 additional troops to support an Afghanistan counterinsurgency strategy, has pledged that troop withdrawals would start in July 2011, contingent on conditions on the ground.
Obama told NATO members last month that 2014 is the date by which the U.S. hopes to cede full control to Afghan forces, an indication that any 2011 drawdown is likely to be small.
That announcement was meant in part to reassure Pakistan that the U.S. intended to remain heavily engaged in the region, increasing pressure on Pakistan to cut its ties to Afghan insurgents, one U.S. official said.
National Intelligence Estimates make use of analysis and information from all the intelligence agencies, including those that are part of the Pentagon.
Military officers countered that the assessments are "dated" because the review period stopped in September, as the last of the additional forces were arriving.
"You are missing at least two and a half months of intensive operations with the full complement of surge forces," said a senior defence official, who added that intelligence analysts lack the "proximity and perspective that our forces have who are on the ground living this every single day."
A senior intelligence official rejected that claim, saying, "The notion that intelligence officers aren't on the ground in Afghanistan and on the front lines in the fight against terrorism is preposterous. Our people are working side by side the United States military and our foreign partners to thwart our common enemies."
The CIA has primary responsibility for counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, with technical and human sources that afford a continual stream of information about events there, media reports pointed out.