In October 2008, a draft intelligence assessment found that, despite the seven-year presence of U.S. troops, Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” as the Taliban renews its influence over the country it once controlled. The draft National Intelligence Estimate, a formal document that reflects the consensus judgments of all 16 American intelligence agencies, faults the Afghan central government for the deteriorating situation, including rampant government corruption, as well as the country’s booming and destabilizing heroin trade. The New York Times reported that the assessment’s “conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after the September 11, 2001, attacks made Afghanistan the central focus of a global campaign against terrorism.” Critics have long said that the war in Iraq has distracted from the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan and that a lack of troops has hampered attempts to fully secure the country. Furthermore, the Taliban has established the border area in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a base for incursions into Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has weak control over these areas and violence in Afghanistan has increased markedly, starting in 2005. A U.S. effort to encourage the Pakistani government to control Taliban and Al Qaeda militants has failed to end the safe haven.
The Bush administration initiated a major review of its Afghanistan policy and decided to send additional troops to the country. Over the summer, President Bush authorized strikes by special forces inside Pakistan without notifying the Pakistani government. In the 2008 election, both presidential candidates said they would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan to quell the Taliban resurgence. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a July 2008 news briefing, “Afghanistan has been and remains an economy of force campaign which, by definition, means we need more forces there.”