British foreign secretary admits errors in intelligence assessments of Afghanistan

Dominic RaabTHE CONSENSUS VIEW OF British intelligence in the weeks leading to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban was that the Afghan government would be challenged, but that the rebels were unlikely to take over the country in 2021. This was revealed on Wednesday in the House of Commons by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Raab fielded criticism that he had reacted slowly to the crisis in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary told his critics that his department’s decisions had relied on assessments by the Joint Intelligence Committee, an interagency body that coordinates Britain’s intelligence agencies in issuing reports about pressing security matters. He told Parliament that the assessments he had been given pointed out that the pro-Western government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would be threatened by the Taliban following the withdrawal of Western troops. But they concluded that the government would remain in control of Kabul through 2021, said Raab.

The rapid fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban caught the British intelligence establishment —and, consequently, the government as a whole— by surprise, said Raab, adding that the sheer “scale and speed of the fall of Kabul” was unexpected. The foreign secretary blamed “optimism bias” for the reports, but added that similar optimistic views were “widely shared” across the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All parties involved would have to learn lessons from Afghanistan about the accuracy of intelligence reports, Raab concluded.

But the foreign secretary was less clear about why his office did not heed the warnings of the principal risk assessment of his own department, which was issued on July 22, approximately a month before the fall of Kabul. The assessment warned starkly that the return of the Taliban to power could be rapid, as “peace talks are stalled and [United States and] NATO withdrawal is resulting in Taliban advances”. This, said the assessment, could lead to the “fall of cities, collapse of security forces, [and] Taliban return to power”. The document also discussed the possibility that the British “embassy may need to close if security deteriorates” in the Afghan capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 September 2021 | Permalink

One Response to British foreign secretary admits errors in intelligence assessments of Afghanistan

  1. williamdowney5 says:

    Happy thoughts and words do not belong in an intelligence assessment. When I joined the IC one of the lessons I learned was to err on the side of gloom.

    There are no crystal balls. However, when the US folded its tents and skulked off in July from Bagram, anyone that was actually paying attention and recognized the vulnerabilities of the Afghan military should have predicted that the downfall was going to be sooner.

    The blame for the disaster does not rest solely on intelligence failures. Clearly, the blame resides with the diplomats and military “leadership” that failed to ask the hard questions. A quote from General Patton applies “if everybody is thinking alike then someone isn’t thinking”

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