As the body count rises for U.S. troops in Afghanistan - four Marines were killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday, making August on track to be one of the deadliest months in the war - more trouble looms on the horizon.
A newly-declassified list of answers given by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to questions submitted by the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009 outlines increasing concerns about the situation in Afghanistan. The illuminating Q&A was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog.
Blair noted that, according to counterinsurgency principles, it would require "roughly 818,000 security personnel to secure Afghanistan," which would require a massive increase in troops considering that there are currently only 83,094 soldiers in the Afghan National Army. Even to raise the level to 325,000 troops, which would be deemed essential to securing the Pashtun areas where most Taliban insurgents are located, would cost $946 million per year, almost quadruple the country's 2008 defense budget of $242 million.
In another development that threatens to raise tensions in the region, Blair said that "Iran is covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government." That includes the provision of small arms, mines, rocket-propelled grenades, rockets, mortars and plastic explosives. Ironically, Blair also noted that Iran has been assisting Afghanistan with developing their security capabilities through the "construction of border security facilities."
Other alarming revelations in the Q&A:
- Al-Qaida "and its regional affiliates will continue to plot against the U.S. and its interests abroad over the next twenty years."
- Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations continue to seek and obtain funding from private Saudi donors.
- Though Al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to acquire chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and materials, their most probable attack scenario involves "conventional explosives" and improvised explosive devices.
- Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program for former jihadists would be the envy of any social welfare democracy: terrorists receive psychological counseling and social support, which includes "assisting participants in locating a job or finding a wife; paying for weddings and dowries; funding stipends; providing transportation, housing, and medical care; and providing financial assistance to detainees' families."
- The global economic crisis "represents the primary near-term security concern for the United States. Blair added that "there is a heightened risk of social and political instability worldwide as governments and citizens grapple with rising unemployment, corporate bankruptcies, frozen financial systems, plummeting trade, and a decline in remittances." That threat hampers the ability of the U.S. to tackle other national security challenges and as allies get distracted with responding to social unrest spurred by unemployment, they are less able to cooperate on counter-terror or the wars in Iran and Afghanistan. Blair even warns that a developing country's economic collapse could lead to the state being "up for sale to the highest bidder."
The National Intelligence Council has produced more than six classified analyses of "the fallout and implications of global economic turbulence." And the CIA is so focused on the issue that it has produced a similar number of analytic products - roughly 270 - on both terrorism and on the global economic crisis.