Growing Threat Seen In Afghan Insurgency

"The Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat," Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee. (By Dennis Cook -- Associated Press)
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the central government's expansion of authority "than at any point since late 2001."

"Despite significant progress on the political front, the Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat," Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples said in a statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual hearing on national security threats.

Appearing with Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, Maples said attacks within Afghanistan were up 20 percent between 2004 and 2005, suicide bombings increased "almost fourfold" and use of makeshift bombs, similar to those used in Iraq, had "more than doubled."

Negroponte, in his prepared remarks, acknowledged that "the volume and geographic scope of attacks increased last year," but he added, "the Taliban and other militants have not been able to stop the democratic process" being undertaken by the central government of President Hamid Karzai.

Unlike at a similar hearing last month before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, when Negroponte read his statement for 90 minutes, he summarized his remarks yesterday in 20 minutes, and turned the floor over to Maples, who took even less time.

As a result, committee members had time to pose questions on a range of issues, covering Afghanistan, security in Iraq, North Korea's nuclear programs and the purchase by Dubai Ports World of a British company running terminals at six American ports.

Maples's prepared remarks seemed to frame some of the initial questions, including his statements that, "with over a million Sunni Arab military-aged males in Iraq, insurgents have little difficulty mobilizing enough fighters." He also said, "The elections appear to have heightened tension and polarized sectarian divides."

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the panel, led off by asking Negroponte what the "benchmarks" of civil war would be. Negroponte responded he would see it as involving "a complete loss of central government security control, the disintegration or deterioration of the security forces of the country," and "unauthorized forces . . . getting the upper hand in the situation."

Both Negroponte and Maples agreed that the degree to which Shiite and Kurd leaders accommodated Sunni demands would determine the outcome. Failure to broaden the government to include Sunnis in key positions "would have the effect of prolonging the insurgency," Negroponte said. Although they both said Iran was providing military support to the Shiites, Maples said he did not think it was in Iran's interest to see a full-scale civil war and Tehran "would probably act to avoid that."

On North Korea, Negroponte declined as he has in the past to provide a specific estimate of the number of nuclear weapons Pyongyang may have. "We assess that they probably have nuclear weapons as they claim that they do," Negroponte said, "but we don't know for a fact that they've got such weapons."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who pressed the issue, noted that CIA Director Porter J. Goss had publicly said the number was "more than one or two," and asked Negroponte what the current unclassified estimate was. "I'm just reluctant to pinpoint a specific number because I don't want to convey the impression that we know for a fact that they have that many weapons," Negroponte said.

Under questioning from Clinton, Maples confirmed the North Koreans are in the process of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead, though the DIA director added, "They have not done so yet nor have they tested it."

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