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Joe Biden memo warned Obama on flawed war plans

CIA assessment was sidelined, new book says

Vice President Joe Biden, with President Obama, used a White House review to question whether the same ‘‘counterinsurgency’’ Iraq war strategy could be applied to Afghanistan.
Vice President Joe Biden, with President Obama, used a White House review to question whether the same ‘‘counterinsurgency’’ Iraq war strategy could be applied to Afghanistan.HARAZ N. GHANBARI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — As President Obama considered adding as many as 40,000 US forces to a backsliding war in Afghanistan in 2009, Vice President Joe Biden warned him that the military rationale for doing so was flawed, a new book about Obama’s expansion of the conflict says.

The book, ‘‘Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan,’’ also says that in planning the drawdown of troops two years later, the White House intentionally sidelined the CIA.

Obama purposely did not read a grim CIA assessment of Afghanistan that found little measurable benefit from the 30,000 ‘‘surge’’ forces Obama eventually approved, the book quotes a US official as saying.


The book by Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be released Tuesday.

A previously undisclosed Biden memo to Obama in November 2009 reflects his view that military commanders were asking Obama to take a leap by adding tens of thousands of forces whose role was poorly defined.

Although Biden’s doubts have become well known, the new book details how Biden used a months-long White House review of the war to question the basic premise that the same ‘‘counterinsurgency’’ strategy that had apparently worked in Iraq could be applied to Afghanistan.

‘‘I do not see how anyone who took part in our discussions could emerge without profound questions about the viability of counterinsurgency,’’ Biden wrote to Obama.

To work, the counterinsurgency or ‘‘COIN’’ doctrine requires military gains to be paired with advances in government services, a ‘‘credible’’ Afghan government, and Afghan security services that can take over, Biden’s memo said.

Although the US military could accomplish any technical assignment related to the new strategy, such as sweeping insurgents from a village, ‘‘no one can tell you with conviction when, and even if, we can produce the flip sides of COIN,’’ Biden wrote. He supported a buildup of 20,000, half the number requested by then-war commander General Stanley McChrystal.


The memo echoed a secret message to Washington from the US ambassador at the time, Karl Eikenberry, that had called President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan an unreliable partner for the proposed surge.

Eikenberry, a former top Army general who had served in Afghanistan, said more forces would only delay the time when Afghans would take over responsibility for their own security.

The Eikenberry memo was leaked shortly after he sent it and confirmed by US officials. Biden was presumed to agree with it, but he stayed mum at the time.

Obama’s compromise — 30,000 additional forces and a deadline to begin bringing them home — was intended to blunt the momentum of a resurgent Taliban insurgency without committing Obama to an open-ended war.

The classified CIA assessment found that Afghanistan was ‘‘trending to stalemate’’ in mid-2011, just ahead of the long-planned date when Obama would begin bringing the additional forces home.

Although many of Obama’s advisers had also concluded that the surge strategy had not worked, a White House official is quoted as saying aides initially rebuffed the CIA analysis because it could undercut Obama’s argument for withdrawing forces on schedule.

In a separate development, an Afghan official said a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan has six police officers over the weekend.

Abdullah Emat, a spokesman for the Uruzgan provincial government, said the police officers were driving in a pickup truck through the province’s Charcheno district Sunday when the vehicle struck the explosive. He did not provide further details.


The Italian Defense Ministry said an Italian soldier was killed and two others were wounded in an explosion Monday in western Afghanistan.

Police spokesman Raouf Ahmadi said the Italian soldier died when a grenade went off inside a watchtower at the base.

He says the grenade apparently got dropped by accident and exploded. Ahmadi said there was no sign of an attack.