Raids, drone strikes and other military operations designed to capture or kill “high-value targets” in the Taliban have had little overall effect in part because of the militant group’s ability to replace leaders, according to a 2009 CIA analysis newly released by WikiLeaks.
The document, titled “Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool,” is dated July 7, 2009, and was produced as the Obama administration grappled with whether to send additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan to launch widespread counterinsurgency operations and train the Afghan police and military. In December 2009, President Obama sent an additional 30,000 U.S. troops in to do just that, expanding the American military presence to more than 100,000 service members.
The CIA analysis released Thursday provides a new snapshot into the intelligence the White House and Pentagon were working with at the time. It acknowledges that “high-value targeting” had been conducted against the Taliban only on an intermittent basis at that point, with limited effect. Counterinsurgency operations conducted against the Taliban to that point had moderate effect, according to the report. The report also examined how the issue of targeting high-value enemy figures played out in other conflicts, including in Northern Ireland and Algeria.
“The Coalition has led a sustained effort since 2001 to target Taliban leaders, but the government’s limited influence outside of Kabul has impeded integration of high-value targeting (HVT) efforts with other military and nonmilitary counterinsurgency elements, such as reconciliation programs,” the analysis says. “Afghan Government corruption and lack of unity, insufficient strength of Afghan and NATO security forces, and the country’s endemic lawlessness have constrained the effectiveness of these counterinsurgency elements.”
The report, based on open source material, adds that senior Taliban leaders’ use of sanctuary in Pakistan had complicated high-value targeting — something that has remained an issue since in Afghanistan.
“Moreover, the Taliban has a high overall ability to replace lost leaders, a centralized but flexible command and control overlaid with egalitarian Pashtun structures, and good succession planning and bench strength, especially at the middle levels, according to clandestine and US military reporting,” the report said.
Kali J. Caldwell, a CIA spokesperson, said Thursday that the agency would not comment “on the authenticity or content of purported stolen intelligence documents.”
The use of high-value targeting by the United States has increased exponentially since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, killing or capturing scores of al-Qaeda fighters and insurgent leaders, according to a 2011 assessment by Matthew Frankel. But those strikes and raids haven’t always led to strategic success, the report adds.
Like the 2009 CIA report, Frankel’s report found that it was difficult for high-value targeting to have strategic effect against an enemy with a decentralized leadership structure.
“Too often, HVT campaigns are plagued by poor intelligence, cause unnecessary collateral damage, spur retaliatory attacks, and in many cases, yield little to no positive effects on the insurgent or terrorist group being targeted, wrote Frankel. “Therefore, it’s vital to understand the conditions and lessons that are more conducive to successful HVT strategies.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.
This report was updated to note that a report by Matthew Frankel was not an assessment by the Brookings Institution, as originally stated, but reflects the opinions of the author alone.