September 23, 2008 -- US intelligence analysts are putting the final touches on a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan that reportedly describes the situation as "grim", but there are "no plans to declassify" any of it before the election, according to one US official familiar with the process.
Officials say a draft of the classified NIE, representing the key judgments of the US intelligence community's 17 agencies and departments, is being circulated in Washington and a final "coordination meeting" of the agencies involved, under the direction of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is scheduled in the next few weeks.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Vanee Vines, said "it is not the ODNI's policy to publicly comment on national intelligence products that may or may not be in production."
The finished secret NIE would be sent to the White House and other policy makers.
Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, has made it his policy that such key judgments "should not be declassified", although several have recently, including a report on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"That does not portend that this is going to become a standard practice," McConnell said it a guidance memo last year.
Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the Rand Corporation think tank, called the situation in Afghanistan "dire."
"We are now at a tipping point, with about half of the country now penetrated by a range of Sunni militant groups including the Taliban and al Queida," Jones said. Jones said there is growing concern that Dutch and Canadian forces in Afghanistan would "call it quits."
"The US military would then need six, eight, maybe ten brigades but we just don't have that many," Jones said.
Last week, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress "we're running out of time" in Afghanistan. "I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan," Adm. Mullen testified.
Perhaps foreshadowing the NIE assessment on Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told Congress, "absent a broader international and interagency approach to the problems there, it is my professional opinion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan."
The limited number of US and NATO troop in Afghanistan has been a recurring theme during the 2008 Presidential election and a dire assessment in a new NIE could make the Bush administration's handling of the situation there a campaign issue in the final month of the campaign.