The New York Times recently reviewed "Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan," a book by Doug Stanton about how small units of elite Special Forces soldiers and C.I.A. paramilitary operatives joined with the Northern Alliance forces in late 2001 to fight the Taliban.
"In the weeks after 9/11, Fifth Group soldiers scrambled to prepare for the coming war in Afghanistan," explains Times reviewer Bruce Barcott. "Intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Northern Alliance was so thin that the men resorted to old Discovery Channel shows and back issues of the National Geographic."
With all the hundreds of billions of tax dollars that we spend on intelligence, why would information on this key part of the world be so thin? Doesn't it say volumes about the absolute lack of competency in the U.S. government when its top fighters have to resort to watching TV and reading back issues of magazines in order to get vital information before going into battle?
It's not as though Afghanistan was on America's back burner in terms of its strategic importance, or that Afghanistan was someplace new for U.S. intelligence agencies and military forces.
In 1980, during its final year in office, the Carter administration began providing intelligence and covert military assistance to the mujahideen ("Islamic guerrilla fighters waging a jihad," as defined by Merriam-Webster) in Afghanistan in order to roll back the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of the country.
Upping the ante, Ronald Reagan began providing Stinger missiles to the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1986 in order to increase Soviet air losses and expand the Soviet's overall cost of occupation. The portable surface-to-air Stinger missiles were especially proficient in blowing Soviet helicopters out of the sky.
On the ground, Reagan escalated the covert supply of advanced weapons, intelligence and money to the anti-communist, anti-Soviet rebel forces and deployed CIA paramilitary officers to provide training and battle strategies.
In 1988, at the close of Reagan's two terms in office and following nearly a decade of escalating U.S. military and intelligence support to the anti-Soviet guerrilla forces, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
Fast-forward 13 years to 2001, and with hundreds of billions more in tax dollars having been spent on intelligence, especially in relation to the expansion of Islamic radicalism, and here's how Times reviewer Barcott describes a problem that U.S. Special Forces had when they arrived in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to fight alongside the Northern Alliance against the Taliban: "There was only one problem. Nobody told the Special Forces guys about the horses. Northern Alliance soldiers traveled and fought on horseback."
Barcott quotes Special Forces Capt. Mitch Nelson on his impromptu training lesson to the U.S. Special Forces as he climbed on a horse: " 'Listen up,' Nelson croaked. 'Here's how you make this thing go.' He heeled the horse in the ribs and it walked a few steps. 'And here's how you turn,' he said, pulling a rein and drawing the narrow muzzle around. 'And here's how you stop.' He pulled back on the reins and sat looking the guys. 'Got it?'
We spent billions on intelligence, in short, and off to battle we went and still didn't know about something as obvious as the horses.
We also don't know as taxpayers, by design, how much we're spending, or wasting, on intelligence. The information is widely "classified."
On occasion, we're told about some of the spending, but there's always something off the books, behind the curtain, too secret and too vital to "national security" to reveal to those of us who are picking up the tab.
In 2007, for instance, we were told that the U.S. intelligence budget was $43 billion, not counting the clandestine spending by various front companies or the price of the cloak-and-dagger guys. That was the first time in a decade that a figure was made public.
All told, some 100,000 people in 16 federal agencies are reportedly laboring at intelligence on a daily basis. And still, they missed the horses. And they didn't connect the dots when they were told before 9/11 that there were Arab students in U.S. flight schools who only wished to learn how to take off, not to land.
And this same government is going to straighten out the car industry and effectively run our health care?
Ralph R. Reiland