Tragically, intelligence failures are everywhere - GulfToday

Tragically, intelligence failures are everywhere

Tom Peck


Peck is The Independent's Political Sketch Writer.


Representational image.

A failure of intelligence, apparently, is what’s happened in Afghanistan. It happened in Iraq too, if you recall, back in 2003 – a failure of intelligence. A failure of intelligence might also make for a good name for a grand history book about the intervening couple of decades.

There’s intelligence failing everywhere. Electing Donald Trump has got to go down as a failure of intelligence. Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel – intelligence, these days, rarely appears to succeed.

The most recent intelligence failure can be clearly seen through all of the many speeches in recent months, by President Biden, Boris Johnson and even, on occasion, Dominic Raab, making clear that there is precious little chance of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, even after the US withdrawal. It was this intelligence failure that allowed both Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson to be on holiday when it happened. In the case of Raab, it also appears to have involved overruling very recent requests not to go on said holiday.

Well, it’s either that or the Taliban are even more ingenious than feared. It is regularly argued that 9/11 was not merely an outrageous terrorist attack but also a deliberate attempt by al-Qaeda to draw America into a gruelling and unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

But who knows? Maybe the Taliban really have been holding out, these past 20 years, like a coiled spring, ready to strike the moment Dominic Raab’s guard is down for just a second.

He is now rushing back, and good for him. It is somewhat depressing when major incidents, which do have an overwhelming propensity to occur in August, are reduced to whether or not they should clash with some politicians’ holiday, but it does kind of matter. When mayor of London, Boris Johnson spent several days refusing to return from driving a winnebago around the Utah desert, at the precise moment at which the city was on fire, so there is precedent.

Still, everyone’s coming back from holiday on Wednesday, it seems. Parliament has been recalled in order to debate the issue. What will they say, exactly? “It’s a nightmare, this.” “We’ve really mucked it up.” Which they have, but when you only go to war because America wants you to, you can’t very well stick around after America has decided it’s had enough.

There is already a clear narrative emerging. That America no longer cares what Britain thinks. That Biden and Johnson don’t talk, that Brexit, and the Northern Ireland question in particular, crystallise in the president’s eyes exactly who he is dealing with, and he doesn’t like it.

None of this is simple, course it’s not. Joe Biden appears to think that America has no greater moral obligation to the Afghan people than to any of the other tens, if not hundreds, of millions of victims of human misery and suffering all around the world. American self-interest has already been served. The Taliban may be back, but it is no longer likely to turn Afghanistan into the kind of place where devastating terror attacks against the west might be plotted. As such, the analysts say, there will be little domestic political consequence for him.

This is dubious to say the least. Entirely by coincidence, I happen to know someone that spent most of the last decade working in Kabul in financial services. If the west had never intervened there, this certainly would never have happened. He spent the weekend receiving horrendous messages from Afghan people he employed out there, many of them women, who, having worked for a western company, now quite rightly fear for their lives. Our obligation to these people isn’t a difficult moral question. It’s a real question, and the answer’s obvious.

There will, inevitably, be a desire to try and understand such events in conceptual, rather than real terms. It tends to be taken as a given that foreign military intervention “can’t go on forever”, even if, almost by accident, the US and the rest of Nato appeared to have alighted on a strategy that worked – small numbers of troops, enforcement by air presence, a greatly reduced loss of military life, and at manageable cost.

Alternatively, the new “strategy” has already seen desperate men and women trying, and failing, to cling on to the wheels of aircraft as they take off from Kabul, with horrendous consequences. It’s a very clear failure of intelligence, and there is precious little sign of anybody coming along to fix it.

Related articles