The Hill reports:
The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan.
The statistic is likely to play into the escalating debate in Congress over the cost of a war that entered its ninth year last week.
Pentagon officials have told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee a gallon of fuel costs the military about $400 by the time it arrives in the remote locations in Afghanistan where U.S. troops operate.
“It is a number that we were not aware of and it is worrisome,” Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, said in an interview with The Hill. “When I heard that figure from the Defense Department, we started looking into it.”
The Pentagon comptroller’s office provided the fuel statistic to the committee staff when it was asked for a breakdown of why every 1,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan costs $1 billion. The Obama administration uses this estimate in calculating the cost of sending more troops to Afghanistan.
The Obama administration is engaged in an internal debate over its future strategy in Afghanistan. Part of this debate concerns whether to increase the number of U.S. troops in that country.
The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, reportedly has requested that about 40,000 additional troops be sent.
Democrats in Congress are divided over whether to send more combat troops to stabilize Afghanistan in the face of waning public support for the war.
Any additional troops and operations likely will have to be paid for through a supplemental spending bill next year, something Murtha has said he already anticipates.
Afghanistan — with its lack of infrastructure, challenging geography and increased roadside bomb attacks — is a logistical nightmare for the U.S. military, according to congressional sources, and it is expensive to transport fuel and other supplies.
A landlocked country, Afghanistan has no seaports and a shortage of airports and navigable roads. The nearest port is in Karachi, Pakistan, where fuel for U.S. troops is shipped.
From there, commercial trucks transport the fuel through Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes changing carriers. Fuel is then transferred to storage locations in Afghanistan for movement within the country. Military transport is used to distribute fuel to forward operating bases. For many remote locations, this means fuel supplies must be provided by air.
One of the most expensive ways to supply fuel is by transporting it in bladders carried by helicopter; the amount that can be flown at one time can barely satisfy the need for fuel.
The cheapest way to transport fuel is usually by ship. Other reasonable methods to provide fuel are by rail and pipeline. The prices go up exponentially when aircraft are used, according to congressional sources.
The $400 per gallon reflects what in Pentagon parlance is known as the “fully burdened cost of fuel.”
“The fully burdened cost of fuel is a recognition that there are a lot of other factors that come into play,” said Mark Iden, the deputy director of operations at the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), which provides fuel and energy to all U.S. military services worldwide.
The DESC provides one gallon of JP8 fuel, which is used for both aircraft and ground vehicles, at a standard price of $2.78, said Iden.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, told a Navy Energy Forum this week that transporting fuel miles into Afghanistan and Iraq along risky and dangerous routes can raise the cost of a $1.04 gallon up to $400, according to Aviation Week which covered the forum.
“These are fairly major problems for us,” Conway said, according to the publication.
The fully burdened cost of fuel accounts for the cost of transporting it to where it is needed, said Kevin Geiss, program director for energy security in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment.
And moving fuel by convoy or even airlift is expensive, according to the Army news release from July 16, which quoted Geiss. In some places, Geiss said, analysts have estimated the fully burdened cost of fuel might even be as high as $1,000 per gallon.
Energy consumed by a combat vehicle may not even be for actual mobility of the vehicle, Geiss said, but instead to run the systems onboard the vehicle, including the communications equipment and the cooling systems to protect the electronics onboard.
Some 8o percent of U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices, many of which are placed in the path of supply convoys — making it even more imperative to use aircraft for transportation.
According to a Government Accountability Office report published earlier this year, 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost due to attacks or other events while delivering fuel to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in June 2008 alone.
High fuel demand, coupled with the volatility of fuel prices, also have significant implications for the Department of Defense’s operating costs, the GAO said. The fully burdened cost of fuel — that is, the total ownership cost of buying, moving and protecting fuel in systems during combat — has been reported to be many times higher than the price of a gallon of fuel itself, according to the report.
The Marines in Afghanistan, for example, reportedly run through some 800,000 gallons of fuel a day. That reflects the logistical challenges of running the counterinsurgency operations but also the need for fuel during the extreme weather conditions in Afghanistan — hot summers and freezing winters.
With the military boosting the number of the all-terrain-mine resistant ambush-protected vehicles (M-ATVs) in Afghanistan meant to survive roadside bombs, the fuel consumption will likely rise even higher, since those vehicles are considered gas-guzzlers.
The Pentagon comptroller’s office did not return requests for comment by press time.
Friday, October 16, 2009
The Hill reports:
The NY Times reports:
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal stepped off the whirring Black Hawk and headed straight into town. He had come to Garmsir, a dusty outpost along the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, to size up the war that President Obama has asked him to save. McChrystal pulled off his flak jacket and helmet. His face, skeletal and austere, seemed a piece of the desert itself.
He was surrounded by a clutch of bodyguards, normal for a four-star general, and an array of the Marine officers charged with overseeing the town. Garmsir had been under Taliban control until May 2008, when a force of American Marines swept in and cleared it. Since then, the British, then the Americans, have been holding it and trying, ever so slowly, to build something in Garmsir — a government, an army, a police force — for the first time since the war began more than eight years ago.
The Marines around McChrystal, including the local battalion commander, Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, looked surprised, even alarmed, when McChrystal removed his protective gear. But as the group walked the rutted streets into Garmsir’s bazaar, they began taking off their helmets, too.
“Who owns the land here?” McChrystal asked, peering up the street and into the shops. “Is it owned by the farmers or by landlords?”
It was the sort of question a sociologist, or an economist, would ask. No one offered an answer.
“If you owned 200 acres here, would you live on it, or would you live somewhere else?” McChrystal asked.
The entourage entered the bazaar. The Afghans sensed that an important American had arrived, and they began to gather in groups inside the stalls. Then the general stopped and turned.
“What do you need here?” McChrystal asked.
A translator turned the general’s words into Pashto.
“We need schools!” one Afghan called back. “Schools!”
“We’re working on that,” McChrystal said. “Those things take time.”
McChrystal walked some more, engaging another group of Afghans. He posed the same question.
“Security,” a man said. “We need security. Security first, then the other things will be possible.”
“That is what we are trying to do,” McChrystal said. “But it’s going to take time. Success takes time.”
The questions kept coming, and the answer was the same. After a couple of hours, McChrystal put on his helmet and flak jacket, boarded the Black Hawk and flew to another town.
Success takes time, but how much time does Stanley McChrystal have? The war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year. The Taliban, measured by the number of their attacks, are stronger than at any time since the Americans toppled their government at the end of 2001. American soldiers and Marines are dying at a faster rate than ever before. Polls in the United States show that opposition to the war is growing steadily.
Worse yet, for all of America’s time in Afghanistan — for all the money and all the blood — the lack of accomplishment is manifest wherever you go. In Garmsir, there is nothing remotely resembling a modern state that could take over if America and its NATO allies left. Tour the country with a general, and you will see very quickly how vast and forbidding this country is and how paltry the effort has been.
And finally, there is the government in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai, once the darling of the West, rose to the top of nationwide elections in August on what appears to be a tide of fraud. The Americans and their NATO allies are confronting the possibility that the government they are supporting, building and defending is a rotten shell.
In his initial assessment of the country, sent to President Obama early last month, McChrystal described an Afghanistan on the brink of collapse and an America at the edge of defeat. To reverse the course of the war, McChrystal presented President Obama with what could be the most momentous foreign-policy decision of his presidency: escalate or fail. McChrystal has reportedly asked for 40,000 additional American troops — there are 65,000 already here — and an accelerated effort to train Afghan troops and police and build an Afghan state. If President Obama can’t bring himself to step up the fight, McChrystal suggested, then he might as well give up.
“Inadequate resources,” McChrystal wrote, “will likely result in failure.”
The magnitude of the choice presented by McChrystal, and now facing President Obama, is difficult to overstate. For what McChrystal is proposing is not a temporary, Iraq-style surge — a rapid influx of American troops followed by a withdrawal. McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.
And that’s if it succeeds.
A few days after McChrystal filed his report, I sat down with him in his headquarters in Kabul. He seemed upbeat and relaxed. The report was still secret — it hadn’t yet leaked to the public. The ensuing furor was still to come, as was talk that McChrystal was considering resigning, which he was forced to publicly dispel. The atmosphere was not tense — not yet. Only urgent.
“I took this job because I was asked to take it, and because it is very, very important,” McChrystal told me. “Admiral Mullen” — head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — “specifically said to me: ‘You go out, you decide what needs to be done, and you tell me whatever you need to do that. Don’t constrain yourself because of politics. You tell me what you need.’ ”
I asked him about Obama.
“I didn’t get any assurances from anyone that I would be given any amount of time,” McChrystal said. “I didn’t get any assurances from anyone that I would be given any amount of resources. I didn’t ask for any assurances.”
For a moment, McChrystal paused.
“I don’t feel like the lonely man in the arena,” he said, “with all the pressure on my shoulders.”
THE MARINES WERE walking along the sandy road when the Afghans lined up to watch the bomb.
The Marines, members of Echo Company of the Second Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, had plodded through a mile of sodden cornfields in the heat of Helmand Province and climbed a rock promontory to an observation post once manned by soldiers of the Soviet Union. They arrived in early July as part of the big push ordered by President Obama; General McChrystal had visited their command post in Garmsir, 12 miles up the road, three days before.
The Marines had been in plain view for more than two hours. And when they moved down from the old Soviet lookout and walked up the dirt path that runs alongside the hamlet of Mian Poshteh, the Afghans started to come out.
At first, a lone man walked along the edge of one of Mian Poshteh’s mud-brick houses. Then he stopped and turned and stood, watching. Then another man, this one in an irrigation ditch, stuck his head up over the ledge. A pair of children stopped playing. They turned to watch.
“Something’s going down,” Sgt. Jonathan Delgado said. He was 22 and from Kissimmee, Fla.
“Watch that guy,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Vance, pointing. He was also 22, from Raleigh, N.C.
Two more Afghans arrived. They stopped and stood and looked at a spot just ahead of the Marines. A man on a motorcycle drove past, driving slowly, turning his head. Then the bomb went off. It had been buried in the path itself, a few feet under the sand, a few feet in front of the Marines.
The blast from the bomb was sharp and deep, and a dirty cloud shot up a hundred feet. Waves from the blast shot out, toward the village and toward us. Ten Marines at the front of the line disappeared.
“We’re hit! We’re hit!” Delgado shouted, and everyone ran to the front.
Marines began staggering out of the cloud. They were holding their ears and eyes.
“God, I’m still here,” Cpl. Matt Kaiser said, rubbing his ears. Kaiser had been at the front, sweeping the ground with a mine detector. He was from Oak Harbor, Ohio. “I’m still here.”
“No one’s hit,” Delgado said. “Jesus, no one’s hit.”
The rest of the young men staggered out of the cloud while the Marines trained their guns on Mian Poshteh.
The Afghans were gone.
“My bell’s rung pretty bad,” Kaiser said. He was shaking his head and glancing up and down and half laughing.
The bomber had missed. The weapon had been what the Marines refer to as “command-detonated,” which meant that someone, probably in Mian Poshteh, had punched a trigger — on a wire leading to the bomb — when the Marines came up the path. The triggerman needed to remember precisely where he had buried his bomb. Clearly, he had forgotten. If he had waited five more seconds, he would have killed several Marines.
Delgado, Kaiser and the others gathered themselves and walked toward Mian Poshteh. On their radio, the Marines could hear voices coming from inside the village.
“Is everything ready?” a voice said in Pashto.
“Everything is ready,” another voice said. “Let’s see what they do.”
The Marines stayed back. Earlier in the war, they would have gone into Mian Poshteh; they would have surrounded the village and kicked in doors until they found the bomber. Most likely they would have found him — and maybe along the way they would have killed some civilians and smashed up some homes. And made a lot of enemies. The Marines are a very different force now, with very different goals. They walked to within 50 feet of Mian Poshteh, and Lt. Patrick Bragan shouted: “Send us five men. Five men.”
Minutes passed, and five Afghans appeared. They were unarmed and ordinary looking.
“I have no idea who did that,” an old man named Fazul Mohammed said.
“Maybe they came at night,” a man named Assadullah said.
“I only heard the explosion,” a man named Syed Wali said.
The face of Lieutenant Bragan was pink from the heat and from pleading.
“All you have to do is tell us,” he said. “We’re here to help you.”
The Marines gave up. Near sunset, they started back the way they came, through the head-high corn. Delgado turned to one of his buddies, Cpl. John Shymanik, 22.
“They didn’t get us today,” Delgado said.
“They’re still trying, though,” Shymanik said.
STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL SAT at the head of a U-shaped bank of tables in a sealed room at Bagram Airfield, a main hub of the war. He was surrounded by five giant video screens. On each screen was another general — American, German, Dutch, French, Italian — each commanding a different part of Afghanistan. It was McChrystal’s morning briefing, known as the commander’s update.
One by one, the generals scrolled through the events from the day before: a roadside bomb in Khost, small-arms fire in Ghazni, a British soldier killed in Helmand Province. Then one of the European generals started talking about an airstrike. A group of Taliban insurgents had attacked a coalition convoy, and the soldiers called for air support. A Hellfire missile, the European general said, obliterated an Afghan compound. The general — he cannot be named because of the confidentiality of the meeting — was moving on to the next topic when McChrystal stopped him.
“Can you come back to that, please?” McChrystal said.
McChrystal’s voice is higher than you would expect for a four-star general.
“Yes, sir,” the European general said.
“We just struck a compound,” McChrystal said. “I would like for you to explain to me the process you used to shoot a Hellfire missile into a compound that might have had civilians in it.”
The European commander looked at an aide and muttered something. The killing of Afghan civilians, usually caused by inadvertent American and NATO airstrikes, has become the most sensitive issue between the Afghans and their Western guests. Each time civilians are killed, the Taliban launch a campaign of very public propaganda.
“Were there civilians in that compound?” McChrystal asked. He was leaning into the microphone on the table.
The commander started to talk, but McChrystal kept going.
“Who made that decision?” McChrystal said.
An aide handed the European general a sheaf of papers.
“I’m sorry, but the system is not responsive enough for us to get that kind of information that quickly,” the general said.
McChrystal’s face began to tighten. Generals tend to treat one another with the utmost deference.
“We bomb a compound, and I don’t know about it until the next morning?” McChrystal said. “Don’t just tell me, ‘Yeah, it’s O.K.’ I want to know about it. I’m being a hard-ass about it.”
The European general looked down at his papers.
“It seems it was not a Hellfire missile but a 500-pound bomb,” he said.
McChrystal took off his reading glasses and looked around the room — at the video screens and the other American officers.
“Gentlemen, we need to understand the implications of what we are doing,” he said. “Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction. A guy with a long-barrel rifle runs into a compound, and we drop a 500-pound bomb on it? Civilian casualties are not just some reality with the Washington press. They are a reality for the Afghan people. If we use airpower irresponsibly, we can lose this fight.”
LATER THAT DAY, during a drive through Kabul, McChrystal told me that he had decided to drastically restrict the circumstances under which airstrikes would be permitted: for all practical purposes, he was banning bombs and missiles in populated areas unless his men were in danger of being overrun.
“Even if it means we are going to step away from a firefight and fight them another day, that’s O.K.,” McChrystal told me.
McChrystal’s missive was the first in an array he has drafted aimed at radically transforming the way America and its allies wage war here. In his first weeks on the job, McChrystal issued directives instructing his men on how to comport themselves with Afghans (“Think of how you would expect a foreign army to operate in your neighborhood, among your families and your children, and act accordingly”); how to fight (“Think of counterinsurgency as an argument to win the support of the people”); even how to drive (“in ways that respect the safety and well-being of the Afghan people”). At the heart of McChrystal’s strategy are three principles: protect the Afghan people, build an Afghan state and make friends with whomever you can, including insurgents. Killing the Taliban is now among the least important things that are expected of NATO soldiers.
“You can kill Taliban forever,” McChrystal said, “because they are not a finite number.”
That strategy is underscored by an extraordinary sense of urgency — that eight years into this war the margin for error for the Americans has shrunk to zero. “If every soldier is authorized to make one mistake,” McChrystal said, “then we lose the war.”
While Afghanistan is not Iraq, McChrystal’s plan does resemble in some ways that of General David H. Petraeus, who took command of American forces in Iraq in early 2007, when the country was disintegrating in a civil war. For four years, the American military had tried to crush the Iraqi insurgency and got the opposite: the insurgency bloomed, and the country imploded.
By refocusing their efforts on protecting Iraqi civilians, American troops were able to cut off the insurgents from their base of support. Then the Americans struck peace deals with tens of thousands of former fighters — the phenomenon known as the Sunni Awakening — while at the same time fashioning a formidable Iraqi army. After a bloody first push, violence in Iraq dropped to its lowest levels since the war began.
“It was all in,” Petraeus told me about that time.
And so if it was Petraeus who saved Iraq from cataclysm, it now falls to McChrystal to save Afghanistan.
Petraeus and McChrystal are in fact close — their bond solidified in the crucible of Iraq. Petraeus, now head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, with overall responsibility for both Iraq and Afghanistan, pushed McChrystal for the job. “He was a key part of the team in Iraq,” Petraeus told me.
Now 55, Stanley McChrystal is the son of Herbert J. McChrystal Jr., an Army general who served in Germany during the American occupation and fought in Korea and Vietnam. Stanley McChrystal was the fourth child in a family of five boys and one girl; all of them grew up to serve in the military or marry someone who did. “My dad was always the soldier I wanted to be,” McChrystal said.
He graduated from West Point in 1976, at the Army’s post-Vietnam nadir. Over the next 30 years, McChrystal ascended the ranks, mostly by way of the elite, secretive wing of Special Operations, in units like the Rangers. He served as a staff officer and an operations officer in the first gulf war and did stints at Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations (where he is remembered for running a dozen miles each morning to the council’s offices on the Upper East Side).
With his long and gaunt face and his long and lean body, McChrystal looks almost preternaturally alert — coiled, hungry. He pushes himself mercilessly, sleeping four or five hours a night, eating one meal a day. He runs eight miles at a clip, usually with an audiobook at his ears. “I was the fastest runner at Fort Stewart, Ga., until he arrived,” Petraeus told me recently. “He’s a tremendous athlete.” On a recent daylong helicopter trip touring bases around the country, McChrystal yawned throughout the day — the only evidence of his exhaustion. He drank regularly from a large mug of coffee, black.
As McChrystal drives himself, he sometimes affords little tolerance to those who do not.
MCCHRYSTAL WAS ONLY a month into his new job when he strode into the area inside NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul known as Destille Gardens. A collection of one-story buildings with a courtyard and patio, it is the only thing at headquarters that resembles a lounge or a recreation area. Soldiers and Marines — most of them staff officers — would gather there for coffee and even, if they were European, a glass of beer or wine. It’s a world away from Helmand Province.
McChrystal was coming for a haircut, and as he walked through the courtyard, he passed a table of coalition officers chatting and drinking. According to several officers present, his face showed immediate disapproval, but no one noticed and he kept on going. Twenty minutes later, when McChrystal walked back across the courtyard, his hair freshly trimmed, the officers were still at their table. Some of them had dozed off. The general’s mouth tightened. He walked over to their table.
He woke one officer and said: “Good afternoon, I’m Stan McChrystal. Is there a problem with your office space?”
He turned and walked off. Six weeks later, McChrystal issued an order banning alcohol from I.S.A.F. headquarters.
Yet for all his asceticism, McChrystal displays a subtlety that suggests a wider view of the world. “If you were to go into his house, he has this unreal library,” Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, McChrystal’s intelligence chief and longtime friend, told me this summer. “You can go over and touch a binding and ask him, ‘What’s that one about?’ And he’ll just start. His bad habit is wandering around old bookstores. He’s not one of these guys that just reads military books. He reads about weird things too. He’s reading a book about Shakespeare right now.”
Also on his recent reading list this past summer: “Vietnam: A History,” Stanley Karnow’s unsparing account of America’s defeat.
When McChrystal decided to come to Afghanistan, a lot of people signed up to come with him. “I first worked for him in the gulf war, and General McChrystal was the sharpest, fastest staff officer I have ever come across — and I had been serving for 20 years at that point,” said Graeme Lamb, a retired British general and former commander of the Special Air Service, Britain’s equivalent of Delta Force. “He could take ideas, concepts, directions, and he could turn them into language, into understanding, and pass it out at an electric rate.”
Lamb was getting ready to retire earlier this year when McChrystal asked him to join his team. Lamb flew to Washington to talk it over, and the two men sealed the deal at a Mexican restaurant in Arlington, Va. “I don’t think there is a Brit that could have made the same call,” Lamb told me.
One big question hovering over McChrystal is whether his experience in Iraq truly prepares him for the multiheaded challenge that faces him now. For nearly five years, McChrystal served as chief of the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s commando units, including the Army Delta Force and the Navy Seals. (Until recently, the Pentagon refused to acknowledge that the command even existed.)
As JSOC’s commander, McChrystal spent no time trying to win over the Iraqis or training Iraqi forces or building the governing capacity of the Iraqi state. In Iraq (and, for about a third of his time, in Afghanistan), McChrystal’s job, and that of the men under his command, was, almost exclusively, to kill and capture insurgents and terrorists.
The rescue of Iraq from the cataclysm that it had become by 2006 is an epic tale of grit and blood and luck. By February of that year, Iraq had descended into a full-blown civil war, with a thousand civilians dying every month. Its central actors were the gunmen of Al Qaeda, who, with their suicide bombers, carried out large-scale massacres of Shiite civilians; and the Shiite militias, some of them in Iraqi uniforms, who retaliated by massacring thousands of young Sunni men.
Breaking the cycle of attack and revenge was crucial to stopping the civil war, and it was here, McChrystal and his colleagues say, that JSOC played a critical role. In a series of operations that climaxed in 2006 and 2007, McChrystal’s commandos set out to destroy Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia.
“The aim was to go after the middle of their network — in a regular army, their senior noncommissioned officers. We tried to cause the network to collapse,” McChrystal told me. “We took it to an art form. It really became a machine.”
McChrystal said that as early as the fall of 2006 — when Al Qaeda was at its murderous peak — it looked like the group was coming apart. “We sensed that Al Qaeda was going to implode,” he said. “We could just feel it. We were watching it and feeling it and seeing it.” In addition to driving the civil war, Al Qaeda gunmen were seen as a main obstacle to Iraq’s Sunnis’ reconciling with the Americans and the Iraqi government. By degrading Al Qaeda, McChrystal and others say, they helped significantly reduce the civil war, and by so doing created a space that allowed a broader movement of reconciliation — the Sunni Awakening — to succeed.
“What General McChrystal was doing with the forces he had under command in Iraq was absolutely essential to setting the conditions that allowed the Awakening to move forward,” Lamb, the former S.A.S. head, told me.
The most significant moment in McChrystal’s tenure was on June 6, 2006, when a crucial piece of information came across one of JSOC’s video screens. For months, according to sources involved in the operation (though not McChrystal), McChrystal and his commandos had been hunting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Zarqawi, of course, was the man responsible for the murder of many hundreds of innocents in car bombings and suicide attacks. McChrystal was so desperate that he created a separate task force to get him. The task force narrowly missed Zarqawi several times; a few months before the June sighting, the operator of a Predator drone, a pilotless airplane, had spotted Zarqawi in a taxicab in Anbar Province. He lost him — and Zarqawi jumped out — when the operator changed the focus on the Predator’s camera lens.
This time, McChrystal believed, Zarqawi was in his sights. The tip was long in coming, a result of thousands of hours of intelligence work, but according to several sources, it boiled down to this: Under interrogation, an Iraqi insurgent who was a member of Zarqawi’s inner circle pointed to an Iraqi named Abd al-Rahman, who, the insurgent said, served as Zarqawi’s spiritual adviser. Whenever Rahman was preparing to meet Zarqawi, the source told the Americans, he would send his wife and family out of Baghdad the day before.
McChrystal and his JSOC team watched Rahman for 17 consecutive days. Then, on June 6, 2006, it happened — Rahman’s family was seen piling into a vehicle and leaving the city. The next day, a Predator drone followed Rahman himself as he made his way northeast out of Baghdad, to a small house in a palm grove near the village of Hibhib. Rahman went inside. McChrystal had a commando team on the ground, 18 minutes away.
As McChrystal and his staff watched through the Predator camera, a man, dressed in black, walked from the house to the edge of the road. The man looked to his right, then to his left. It was Zarqawi. He walked back inside. They were sure it was him.
At an operations center, a senior Special Forces commander, realizing that time was short, ordered an airstrike. Two F-16’s were dispatched; one of them was hooked up to a refueling plane; the second jet was told to go alone. A pair of 500-pound bombs killed Zarqawi. McChrystal and his staff were waiting at JSOC’s headquarters in Balad when the corpse came in.
McChrystal’s tenure as JSOC’s commander was not flawless. JSOC never got its most wanted quarry, neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri. One of JSOC’s units, Task Force 6-26, was cited for abusing detainees, many of them at a site known as Camp Nama, in Baghdad. McChrystal himself was not implicated, but at least 34 task-force members were disciplined. “There were cases where people made mistakes, and they were punished,” McChrystal told me. “What we did was establish a policy and atmosphere that said that is not what you do. That is not acceptable.”
He also signed off on the Silver Star recommendation for Cpl. Pat Tillman, the N.F.L. star and Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. The medal recommendation erroneously suggested that Tillman was killed by enemy fire; in fact he was killed accidentally by his own men, which McChrystal suspected at the time. The medal was awarded at a memorial service for Tillman, in which he was lionized as a man killed by the enemy.
McChrystal said he did indeed sign off on the recommendation for Tillman, because he believed it was warranted. The award was for valor, and Tillman had been extraordinarily brave, regardless of who killed him. McChrystal said he never intended for Tillman’s death to be exploited politically or to convey an incorrect impression about his death. “I certainly regret the way this came out,” McChrystal told me.
As for his current job, McChrystal said there are two lessons from Iraq that apply to Afghanistan. The first is that his role — killing insurgents — worked there only because it was part of a much larger effort to not only defeat the insurgency but also to build an Iraqi state that could stand on its own. “Ours was just a supporting effort,” he said. The second lesson is perhaps more startling. It is that no situation, no matter how dire, is ever irredeemable — if you have the time, resources and the correct strategy. In the spring of 2006, Iraq seemed lost. The dead were piling up. The society was disintegrating. One possible conclusion was that it was time for the United States to cut its losses in a country that it never truly understood. But the American military believed it had found a strategy that worked, and it hung in there, and it finally turned the tide.
“One of the big take-aways from Iraq was that you have to not lose confidence in what you are doing,” McChrystal said. “We were able to go to the edge of the abyss without losing hope.”
SHORTLY AFTER HIS ARRIVAL in Afghanistan in June 2009, McChrystal sat down with the commanders of the 82nd Airborne Division, which oversees a broad swath of eastern Afghanistan. The briefing, given by the 82nd’s officers, was sophisticated but sobering: corruption in the Afghan government is pervasive, the officers said; the insurgency, supported from Pakistan, is resilient. Every valley and every village is different, each its own patchwork of ethnic groups and tribes, each with its own history. The Americans are having to learn them all.
“The environment is so complex that there is no overarching solution,” Brig. Gen. William Fuller told McChrystal.
When the briefing was finished, McChrystal looked around the room. “Gentlemen, I am coming into this job with 12 months to show demonstrable progress here — and 24 months to have a decisive impact,” he said. “That’s how long we have to convince the Taliban, the Afghan people and the American people that we’re going to be successful. In 24 months, it has to be obvious that we have the clear upper hand and that things are moving in the right direction. That’s not a choice. That’s a reality.”
In a tour of bases around Afghanistan, McChrystal repeated this mantra to all his field commanders: Time is running out.
Yet even if McChrystal’s plan succeeds, even if he can turn the Afghan venture around, neither he nor anyone else in the upper echelons of the military believes that the job — the one President Obama has given them to do — will be finished then.
“It feels like Iraq in 2004,” said Michael Flynn, McChrystal’s deputy. “Part of it is that the insurgency is stronger — we didn’t realize how strong it was. What we are trying to do is make sure everyone understands what it is we are facing — a much stronger insurgency, certainly much more capable. Their capacity to lay I.E.D.’s on the battlefield, for instance — it’s just stunning.”
I asked General Flynn to imagine the future here. “We are going to go in and ask for some resources,” he told me. “If those resources are brought to bear in a timely manner, I believe that it’s probably going to take us three years to really turn the insurgency to the point where it’s waning instead of waxing. To do that we have to fix the Afghan security forces, we have to build their capacity and capability, and we have to absolutely culturally change the way they operate. And then I think beyond those three years, we are looking at another two years when the government of Afghanistan and the security forces of Afghanistan begin to take a lot more personal responsibility. The challenge to us is: What can we do in 12 months? What should we expect? If people’s expectations are that we are going to have the south turned around, for instance, it’s not going to happen.”
The strategy that McChrystal, Flynn and the other senior commanders want to employ in Afghanistan has two main prongs: one hard, one soft.
In the military arena, McChrystal wants to put as many of his men as close to the Afghan people as he can. That means closing some of the smaller bases in remote valleys and opening them in densely populated areas like the Helmand River valley. Here, at least, military force will play a central role, at least in the early phase of his strategy, as the Americans fight their way into areas they have not been in before.
“The insurgency has to have access to the people,” McChrystal told me. “So we literally want to go in there and squat among the people. We want to make the insurgents come to us. Make them be the aggressors. What I want to do is get on the inside, looking out — instead of being on the outside looking in.”
“There will be a lot of fighting,” McChrystal added. “If we do this right, the insurgents will have to fight us. They will have no choice.”
And that’s the rub: the population-focused strategy requires more troops — as many as 40,000 more. This is the decision that confronts President Obama and his advisers now.
The other part of the military option is one with which McChrystal is familiar but does not completely control. It’s his old portfolio — killing and capturing insurgents and terrorists. Much of that is being carried out in Pakistan, where Al Qaeda’s leadership has gathered in havens just across the border from Afghanistan. Both bin Laden and Zawahiri are believed to be hiding there.
In Pakistan, a C.I.A.-led program using Predator drones to hunt down and kill leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban has proved remarkably successful, even if controversial inside Pakistan itself. To date, American officials say, they have killed 11 of the top 20 Al Qaeda leaders, without having to launch large-scale military operations across the border.
With its 180 million people, several dozen nuclear warheads and havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan is one wild card in McChrystal’s campaign. “If we are good here, it will have a good effect on Pakistan,” he told me. “But if we fail here, Pakistan will not be able to solve their problems — it would be like burning leaves on a windy day next door. And if Pakistan implodes, it will be very hard for us to succeed.”
The softer side of McChrystal’s strategy has two main thrusts: training Afghan soldiers and police and persuading insurgents to change sides. It is here where the best chances of long-term success in Afghanistan may lie.
The first of these is a vast, expensive and painstaking project. In the ninth year of the war, Afghan forces are neither large nor able enough to take over for NATO. The Afghan Army has about 85,000 soldiers, and the police force has about 80,000 men. McChrystal wants to boost the size of the army to about 240,000 and the police to 160,000. “I think we can do it,” he told me.
But experience suggests that it won’t be easy. In Iraq, the building of the security forces was fraught with disaster: in 2004 and 2005, Iraqi soldiers and the police disintegrated whenever they came under attack. In later years, Iraqi forces became more sectarian, with some Shiite-dominated units carrying out massacres of Sunni civilians. It was only much later — by early 2008 — that the Iraqi Army and the police began to show promise.
And Iraq was an urban and literate society. Afghanistan is neither. The Afghan police are widely seen as corrupt and complicit in the opium trade — the world’s largest. And while many Afghan soldiers have shown themselves willing to fight, it usually falls to the Americans and their NATO allies to pay them, feed them and support them in the field.
Earlier this year, Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, who oversees the training of the Afghan security forces, spoke to me about the difficulties of creating an army in a country where only one in four adults is literate. “What percentage of police recruits can read?” Formica asked when we met at his headquarters in Kabul. “When I was down in Helmand, where the Brits were training police officers, they said not only could none of them read but they didn’t understand what a classroom was. How can you train officers if they can’t write arrest reports?”
Perhaps McChrystal’s most intriguing idea is his belief that he can persuade large numbers of Taliban to change sides. Coaxing insurgents back into the fold was, after all, one key to pulling Iraq back from the brink of apocalypse. Beginning in late 2006, tens of thousands of Sunni tribesmen, many of them former insurgents, agreed to stop fighting and to come onto the payroll, usually as policemen. Almost overnight, the Iraqi insurgency was reduced to Al Qaeda fanatics and a handful of others who could be targeted by McChrystal’s commandos in JSOC. This shaky — very shaky — arrangement is still keeping what peace there is in Iraq today.
McChrystal says he intends to begin a similar effort in Afghanistan. The idea, he said, would not be to try to flip the Taliban’s leaders — that’s not likely — but rather its foot soldiers. The premise of the program, McChrystal says, is that most of the Taliban’s fighters are not especially committed ideologically and could be brought into society with promises of jobs and protection. “I’d like to go pretty high up,” McChrystal said, referring to the Taliban’s hierarchy. “It could be people who are commanders with significant numbers of troops. I think they can be given the opportunity to come in.”
The effort, McChrystal said, is based on his own reading of the Taliban and of Pashtun culture: most of the people fighting the United States, he argued, are motivated by local and personal grievances. They want more of a voice in local governance, for instance, or they want jobs. “Historically, the Pashtuns are very practical people,” McChrystal told me. “Pashtun culture adjudicates disagreements in a way that mitigates blood feuds. The Pashtun people go out of their way not to do things that cause permanent feuds. They have always been willing to change positions, change sides. I don’t think much of the Taliban are ideologically driven; I think they are practically driven. I’m not sure they wouldn’t flip to our side.”
To help him achieve this, McChrystal recruited his old friend Graeme Lamb, who played a similar role in Iraq. The trick in Iraq, Lamb said, was timing: by late 2006, many Iraqis, even the insurgents, had grown tired of fighting. “What we did in Iraq in mid-2006 — had we tried to do it in mid-2004, it would have crashed and burned,” Lamb told me. “Because at the end of the day, people hadn’t exercised their revenge. They hadn’t stood at the edge of the abyss and looked into it.”
Lamb said the time may have arrived for something similar in Afghanistan, if only because everyone is exhausted by so much war. “Now is a good time,” he said, “because people are very serious on all sides.”
The reconciliation plan might end up bringing into the fold some disreputable characters, but neither Lamb nor McChrystal has much of a problem with that. “In my view,” McChrystal said of the insurgents, “their past is not important. Some people say, ‘Well, they have blood on their hands.’ I’d say, ‘So do a lot of people.’ I think we focus on future behavior. They can enter the political process if they want to.”
The notion that large groups of Taliban fighters could be persuaded to quit is not new. Previous efforts have ended in failure, often because neither the Americans nor their allies were able to protect people who changed sides.
Earlier this year, for example, a local Taliban commander in Wardak Province named Abdul Jameel came forward with a group of fighters and declared that he wanted to quit. Wardak’s governor, Halim Fidai, accepted his surrender and told him he was free to go home. Two weeks later, Taliban gunmen entered Jameel’s home and killed him, his wife, his uncle, his brother and his daughter.
“We had nothing to offer him,” Fidai told me.
In another case, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province, told me that during a recent American military operation he got a telephone call from a Taliban commander. “He wanted to surrender,” Mangal said. And then the military operation was over — and the American troops went back to their bases. “He never called back after that,” Mangal said.
With more American troops, McChrystal told me, he would be better able to squeeze the insurgents into changing sides. “I think a lot of them need to be convinced that they are not going to be successful,” he said.
So many things could scuttle McChrystal’s plans: a Taliban more intractable than imagined, the fractured nature of Afghan society and, no matter what President Obama does, a lack of soldiers and time. But there is something even worse, over which neither McChrystal nor his civilian comrades in the American government exercise much control: the government of Hamid Karzai, already among the most corrupt in the world, appears to have secured its large victory in nationwide elections in August by orchestrating the stealing of votes. A United Nations-backed group is trying to sort through the fraud allegations, and American diplomats are trying to broker some sort of power-sharing agreement with Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
But increasingly, McChrystal, as well as President Obama and the American people, are being forced to confront the possibility that they will be stuck fighting and dying and paying for a government that is widely viewed as illegitimate.
When I asked McChrystal about this, it was the one issue that he seemed not to have thought through. What if the Afghan people see their own government as illegitimate? How would you fight for something like that?
“Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy,” the general said. “That is the key thing.”
A GROUP OF American Marines were bumping along a sandy road in their Humvee as the twilight turned to dark.
“One guy lost his legs,” Sgt. David Spaulding said, riding in the front passenger’s seat. “They were walking in a field.”
The Humvee bounced along some more.
“You know the guy who got shot in the head?” Lance Cpl. Jeremy Dones said, from a seat in the back. “They got him to Germany. His parents flew to Germany. They took him off life support.”
A moment passed.
“Apparently a guy got blown to pieces, and they can’t find all of him,” Spaulding said. “They don’t know if they have all the pieces.”
The men rode together in silence.
McChrystal’s plans come to earth along the banks of the Helmand River, where members of the 2/8 Battalion are trying to retake a 20-mile stretch of orchards and villages around the city of Garmsir. The 2/8 Battalion, about 800 men, is part of the 10,000 Marines dispatched to Helmand by President Obama earlier this year.
Since arriving in early July, the 2/8 has lost 13 men, most to homemade bombs. About five times that number have been wounded. The Marines here fight nearly every day.
Yet for all their difficulties, the battalion’s progress has been real. Garmsir, a district of about 90,000 people, boasts a functioning government with a governor and a local council. About 300 Afghan soldiers are deployed here, led by an Afghan colonel educated at the United States Army’s school for its best junior officers. About 250 Afghan police officers are stationed at bridges and checkpoints. An array of public-works projects is under way.
Most important, the town of Garmsir and the villages around it are quiet. They are part of an area, roughly six miles wide and six miles long, that has been secured by the Marines along the east bank of the Helmand. They call the area “the snake’s head” for its oblong shape. Outside of Garmsir, the Taliban roam and attack. Inside, life for local Afghans is remarkably sane.
Garmsir is a devastated and impoverished place; 30 years of war has seen to that. None of its roads are paved, leaving the farmers unable to sell their grapes and corn in markets outside of town. There are no cellphones, no electricity, no running water. Building a city here that could function on its own would take many years. But in Garmsir’s calm, the first hints of normal life are beginning to show.
One day in August, I tagged along with a group of Marines to the monthly meeting of Garmsir’s district council. Our leader was Capt. Micah Caskey, a civil-affairs officer from Irmo, S.C. At 28, Caskey had already done two tours in the hardest years of the Iraq war. In 2007, he left the Marines to begin a dual graduate degree in law and business at the University of South Carolina. He spent the summer of 2008 studying law abroad. But he stayed in the Marine Reserve, and a few months ago they called him back.
“I had a job all lined up for the summer,” Caskey said. “And now I’m here for seven months. I can’t tell you it was easy. Sometimes it really makes me wonder.”
Garmsir’s governor, Abdullah Jan, arrived ahead of the meeting, and he and Caskey and a group of Marines sat in the courtyard of the district headquarters in a circle of plastic chairs. Governor Jan is the beneficiary of Afghanistan’s strangely centralized political system; he was appointed by Helmand’s governor, Mangal, who was directly appointed by Karzai.
Caskey’s experience in Iraq shows immediately. He is unfailingly polite, even deferential, to Jan. And each time one of the councilmen enters, he stops the conversation and rises to shake his hand.
“Peace be upon you,” Caskey said to Jan. “It’s very nice to see you after so long.”
Jan, who grew up in the district, told Caskey not to worry about local support for the Taliban — there wasn’t any. But in the absence of a stable government, and with no guarantee of safety, ordinary Afghans were often forced to go along. “I can assure you that the people of Garmsir appreciate what you are doing here,” Jan said. “Unfortunately the people are held hostage by the Taliban.”
An Afghan — one of Jan’s assistants — arrived bearing a tray of tea and cakes while Jan talked.
“Ninety percent of the local people support the government,” Jan told Caskey. “Maybe 10 percent really like the Taliban.”
That seemed an overstatement; there were too many roadside bombs in the area — even inside the snake’s head. But the point Jan was making seemed valid enough: once there is law and order, public opinion begins to change.
“You guys,” Jan said, looking at Caskey and the other Americans, “you come in, you help and then you leave. The Afghan people are not 100 percent sure that you are going to stay. They are not sure they won’t have their throats cut if they tell the Americans where a bomb is.”
The council’s meeting began with its 16 members taking their seats on the floor of a large, airy room. Caskey and the other Americans sat in the back. The agenda for the meeting was to decide on a list of development projects, which the Americans would pay for. As Caskey explained, the Americans didn’t want to direct the projects — they wanted to strengthen the Afghan leaders by funneling the money through them.
“The Americans are only going to pay for projects that we decide on,” Jan announced. “It’s up to us.”
The Afghans — all men — began to talk. Their first choice was unanimous: the main sluice gates that lead to the irrigation canals off the Helmand River, built by American aid workers in the 1950s, were badly in need of repair. Some of the fields were going dry.
“It’s been 30 years since anyone did any work on that canal,” Hajji Anwar, one of the councilmen, said.
With the meeting under way, Caskey and the other Americans got up to leave. “I have one request,” Caskey said to one mullah. “Would you be willing to record a message that we can play over the radio station saying that fighting the government violates the idea of jihad — that it’s not jihad?”
Jan thought for a second and nodded. Caskey and the other Marines strapped on their helmets.
“May you have a son just like yourself,” Jan told him.
THE ABANDONED ELEMENTARY school in Mian Poshteh that houses the 240 Marines of 2/8’s Echo Company has no bedrooms, no beds, no electricity, no water. It’s a vacant, dirty building filled with tired and dirty men. They sleep on the floor, a dozen to a room, or they sleep in the dirt outside, shirtless in the heat. They fight every day. When the Marines don’t attack the Taliban, the Taliban attack the Marines.
No Americans have ever come this far south before, at least not permanently. With fewer than 8,000 British troops covering all of Helmand, there never were enough to go around. Garmsir is 12 miles up a single dusty road, where Echo Company’s supply convoys get bombed nearly every day.
Mian Poshteh is like Garmsir but worse. There is no government: no mayor, no city council, no police. Thirty Afghan soldiers live here, only 10 of whom leave the base at any given time. As in Garmsir, the Marines in Mian Poshteh have come to build a government — but they have to defeat the Taliban first.
“We’re not going to clear anything that we can’t hold onto,” said Capt. Eric Meador, Echo Company’s commander.
Even with 240 men, they can’t hold onto much. By the time Echo Company and the rest of the 2/8 leave at the end of October, Meador said, he would like to control a perimeter that extends perhaps a mile and a half around his fort. “I’d be doing pretty well,” he said. To the south, there isn’t another Marine base for miles.
When you see a place like Mian Poshteh — wild, broken and isolated — it’s not difficult to see why McChrystal believes he doesn’t have enough troops to do what President Obama has asked him to.
One of Echo Company’s typical days unfolded in late August, when the Marines set out on foot for a village named Tarakai. Led by a young lieutenant, Patrick Nevins, 24, from Chapel Hill, N.C., Echo Company’s First Platoon walked through a vast field of shoulder-high corn. The fields had been flooded recently, so they were filled with muck. The trek might have been easier had the Marines taken the farmers’ raised footpaths, but the Taliban had taken to laying land mines in those, so the Marines waded straight into the field itself. The mud below was crisscrossed by gullies and rows of broken ground. The helmets of the Marines bobbed above the top of the corn.
The fields, deep and green, were eerily empty of other men.
“I guess all the farmers took the day off,” Nevins said, hacking his way through the corn.
Helmand’s summers are long and merciless, and on this day the temperature hovered around 120 degrees. Crossing the fields, with all the muck, it was hotter still. Nevins and his men tromped through the corn in full gear, including helmets and flak jackets. In the heat, my own boots fell apart.
As he walked, Nevins talked a little about himself. He seemed an unlikely presence in the fields of Helmand. His father is a cancer researcher at Duke University. “My dad is really good at what he does,” Nevins said, hacking and pushing his way through the mud and corn. “I guess I didn’t want to compete with him.”
An hour later, Nevins’s platoon popped out on the other side. Behind them were trails of toppled corn. “Sorry about your field,” Nevins said to an Afghan man standing nearby.
“It’s O.K.,” he said.
We arrived at Tarakai. A group of Afghans lined up. They were talking about the Afghan presidential election, to be held only a few days later.
“We can’t vote,” said Hakmatullah, who, like many Afghans, has only one name. “Everybody knows it. We are farmers, and we cannot do a thing against the Taliban.”
The others said much the same. The Taliban had passed word that they would cut off the right index finger of anyone caught casting a ballot. Not that there was much chance of that: the area around Mian Poshteh was so anarchic that the Afghan government didn’t send anyone to register voters. The closest polling place was in Garmsir.
But there was more to talk about. “The children are frightened,” one of the men said.
And so were the adults. The Taliban owned Tarakai; they taxed the corn and kept watch over the town.
“When you leave here, the Taliban will come at night and ask us why we were talking to you,” a villager told Nevins. “If we cooperate, they would kill us.”
“They will cut out our stomachs,” another man said.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Nevins asked.
“Don’t come close to our houses,” the first villager said. “Don’t try to negotiate with us.”
Nevins was polite but insistent. The Americans were here now, and they were going to stay. “I will try to be respectful, and I will try to keep my distance,” Nevins told the men. “But I have a job to do, and I need to be able to come by from time to time.”
An old man with a long white beard stepped forward. “We’re afraid you’re going to leave this place after a few months,” the old man said. “And the Taliban will take their revenge.”
“I promise you,” Lieutenant Nevins said, “we will be here when the weather gets cold, and when it gets hot again.”
Nevins shook hands with the Afghans and said goodbye. Then he turned, and his men disappeared into the cornfield.
IN AMERICA, the chorus is insistent and growing: scale back the Afghan mission. It’s too hard and too expensive, and we’ve overstayed our welcome.
George F. Will, the columnist, recently said as much. So did Rory Stewart, the British scholar-diplomat who has spent years in the region. Vice President Biden is said to favor such a choice.
The exact shape of a scaled-down commitment is not clear, but it goes something like this: American Special Forces units, aided by Predator drones, can keep Al Qaeda off-balance, while American soldiers stay on to train the Afghan Army and the police.
It’s an attractive argument, of course: it offers the hope that the United States can achieve the same thing — American security — at a much-reduced cost. (The fate of the Afghan people themselves is basically left out of this equation.)
Last month, I visited Richard Haass, one of the idea’s chief proponents, at his office in New York, where he is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Before that, through June 2003, Haass was director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush.)
Haass is particularly persuasive, in part because he does not pretend to have easy answers. After eight years of mismanagement and neglect, Haass says, every choice the United States faces in Afghanistan is dreadful. The weight of the evidence, he says, suggests that curtailing our ambitions is the option least dreadful.
“It’s not self-evident that doing more will accomplish more,” Haass told me. “And I’m skeptical about how central Afghanistan is anymore to the global effort against terror. I’m not persuaded that you can transform the situation there.”
The bulk of Al Qaeda’s leadership, Haass pointed out, is now in Pakistan. That’s where the United States should really be focused — in Pakistan, with a population six times larger than Afghanistan’s and with at least 60 nuclear warheads. “No one wants Afghanistan to become a sponge that absorbs a disproportionate share of our country’s resources,” he said.
General McChrystal and most of the rest of the Pentagon say that Haass’s argument is essentially an illusion. If the United States drew down substantially in Afghanistan, they say, much of the country would quickly be overrun by the Taliban, rendering the other things — training and counterterrorism — impossible. Al Qaeda would return, possibly to the place it had before the 9/11 attacks, and Pakistan would be likely to follow.
When I pitched McChrystal’s counterargument to Haass, he said he was glad that he wasn’t in Obama’s shoes. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “We’re not going to find some wonderful thing that’s going to deliver large positive results at modest costs. It’s not going to happen.”
Haass went on to say: “I keep going back to Yogi Berra. You know: ‘When you reach a fork in the road, take it.’ I bet there are days when Obama wakes up and sees the fork in the road and decides he’s not going to take it. Because both choices are so bad.”
DURING HIS TRIP to Garmsir, Stanley McChrystal took a moment to meet with Abdullah Jan, the governor. The two sat down in the same council chambers where Jan had met with Captain Caskey.
“Tell me how we can do better,” McChrystal said.
Jan thought for a second, then offered an unusual answer.
“You need to live in a building, not a bunch of tents,” he said.
McChrystal gave him a quizzical look.
“Everyone in Garmsir sees that you are living in tents, and they know that you are going to be leaving soon,” Jan told McChrystal. “You need to build something permanent — a building. Because your job here is going to take years. Only then will people be persuaded that you are going to stay.”
“We’ll stay as long as we have to until our Afghan partners are completely secure,” he said. “Even if that means years.”
McChrystal started to get up, but Jan wasn’t finished yet.
“The Afghan people are impatient,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for 30 years! We don’t want to wait any longer. We’re impatient!”
McChrystal held back a smile.
“Believe me,” he told Jan. “I work for a lot of impatient people, too.”
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
NY Times reports:
In March 2003, two C.I.A. officials surprised Kyle D. Foggo, then the chief of the agency’s main European supply base, with an unusual request. They wanted his help building secret prisons to hold some of the world’s most threatening terrorists.
Mr. Foggo, nicknamed Dusty, was known inside the agency as a cigar-waving, bourbon-drinking operator, someone who could get a cargo plane flying anywhere in the world or quickly obtain weapons, food, money — whatever the C.I.A. needed. His unit in Frankfurt, Germany, was strained by the spy agency’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Mr. Foggo agreed to the assignment.
“It was too sensitive to be handled by headquarters,” he said in an interview. “I was proud to help my nation.”
With that, Mr. Foggo went on to oversee construction of three detention centers, each built to house about a half-dozen detainees, according to former intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter. One jail was a renovated building on a busy street in Bucharest, Romania, the officials disclosed. Another was a steel-beam structure at a remote site in Morocco that was apparently never used. The third, another remodeling project, was outside another former Eastern bloc city. They were designed to appear identical, so prisoners would be disoriented and not know where they were if they were shuttled back and forth. They were kept in isolated cells.
The existence of the network of prisons to detain and interrogate senior operatives of Al Qaeda has long been known, but details about them have been a closely guarded secret. In recent interviews, though, several former intelligence officials have provided a fuller account of how they were built, where they were located and life inside them.
Mr. Foggo acknowledged a role, which has never been previously reported. He pleaded guilty last year to a fraud charge involving a contractor that equipped the C.I.A. jails and provided other supplies to the agency, and he is now serving a three-year sentence in a Kentucky prison.
The C.I.A. prisons would become one of the Bush administration’s most extraordinary counterterrorism programs, but setting them up was fairly mundane, according to the intelligence officials.
Mr. Foggo relied on C.I.A. finance officers, engineers and contract workers to build the jails. As they neared completion, he turned to a small company linked to Brent R. Wilkes, an old friend and a San Diego military contractor.
The business provided toilets, plumbing equipment, stereos, video games, bedding, night vision goggles, earplugs and wrap-around sunglasses. Some products were bought at Target and Wal-Mart, among other vendors, and flown overseas. Nothing exotic was required for the infamous waterboards — they were built on the spot from locally available materials, the officials said.
Mr. Foggo, 55, would not discuss classified details about the jails. He was not charged with wrongdoing in connection with the secret prisons, but instead accused of steering other C.I.A. business to Mr. Wilkes’ companies in exchange for expensive vacations and other favors. Before leaving the C.I.A. in 2006, he had become its third-highest official, and his plea was an embarrassment for the agency.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the intelligence world’s embrace of dark-of-night snatch-and-grabs, hidden prisons and interrogation tactics that critics condemned as torture has stained the C.I.A.’s reputation and led to legal challenges, investigations and internal divisions that may take years to resolve. The Justice Department is now considering opening a criminal investigation, with much of the attention focused on the agency’s network of secret prisons, which have become known as the “black sites.”
From Fringes to Spotlight
The demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had transformed Mr. Foggo from a fringe player into the C.I.A.’s indispensable man. Before the 9/11 attacks, the Frankfurt base was a relatively sleepy resupply center, running one or two flights a month to outlying stations. Within days of the attacks, Mr. Foggo had a budget of $7 million, which quickly tripled.
He managed dozens of employees, directing nearly daily flights of cargo planes loaded with pallets of supplies, including saddles, bridles and horse feed for the mounted tribal forces that the spy agency recruited. Within weeks, he emptied the C.I.A.’s stockpile of AK-47s and ammunition at a Midwest depot.
He was a logical choice for the prison project: aggressive, resourceful, patriotic, ready to dispense a favor; some inside the C.I.A. jokingly compared him to Milo Minderbinder, the fictional character who rose from mess hall officer to the black-market magnate of Joseph Heller’s World War II novel “Catch-22.”
Early in the fight against Al Qaeda, agency officials relied heavily on American allies to help detain people suspected of terrorism in makeshift facilities in countries like Thailand. But by the time two C.I.A. officials met with Mr. Foggo in 2003, that arrangement was under threat, according to people briefed on the situation. In Thailand, for example, local officials were said to be growing uneasy about a black site outside Bangkok code-named Cat’s Eye. (The agency would eventually change the code name for the Thai prison, fearing it would appear racially insensitive.) The C.I.A. wanted its own, more permanent detention centers.
Eventually, the agency’s network would encompass at least eight detention centers, including one in the Middle East, one each in Iraq and Afghanistan and a maximum-security long-term site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that was dubbed Strawberry Fields, officials said. (It was named after a Beatles song after C.I.A. officials joked that the detainees would be held there, as the lyric put it, “forever.”)
The C.I.A. has never officially disclosed the exact number of prisoners it once held, but top officials have put the figure at fewer than 100.
At the detention centers Mr. Foggo helped build, several former intelligence officials said, the jails were small, and though they were built to house about a half-dozen detainees they rarely held more than four.
The cells were constructed with special features to prevent injury to the prisoners during interrogations: nonslip floors and flexible, plywood-covered walls to soften the impact of being slammed into the wall.
The detainees, held in cells far enough apart to prevent communication with one another, were kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. For their one hour of daily exercise, they were taken out of their cells by C.I.A. security officers wearing black ski masks to hide their identities and to intimidate the detainees, according to the intelligence officials.
Just like prisons in the United States, the jailers imposed a reward and punishment system: well-behaved detainees received books, DVDs and other forms of entertainment, which were taken away if they misbehaved, the officials said.
C.I.A. analysts served 90-day tours at the prison sites to assist the interrogations. But by the time the new prisons were built in mid-2003 or later, the harshest C.I.A. interrogation practices — including waterboarding — had been discontinued.
Winning a Promotion
Mr. Foggo’s success in Frankfurt, including his work on the prisons, won him a promotion back in Washington. In November 2004, he was named the C.I.A.’s executive director, in effect its day-to-day administrative chief.
The appointment raised some eyebrows at the agency. “It was like taking a senior NCO and telling him he now runs the regiment,” said A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.’s executive director from 2001 to 2004. “It popped people’s eyes.”
Mr. Foggo soon became embroiled in agency infighting. The C.I.A. was reeling from criticism that it had exaggerated Iraq’s weapons programs. Mr. Foggo came to Washington as part of a new team that almost immediately began firing top C.I.A. officials, causing anger among veteran clandestine officers. Mr. Foggo’s fast rise and blunt approach unsettled some headquarters officials, according to Brant G. Bassett, a former agency officer and friend who served with Mr. Foggo.
“Dusty went in there with a blowtorch,” Mr. Bassett said. “Some people were overjoyed, but there were a few others who said, we’ve got to take this guy down.”
In 2005, before he came under investigation, Mr. Foggo and other officials, including John Rizzo, the agency’s top lawyer, paid a rare visit to some of the prison sites, assuring C.I.A. employees that their activities were legal, according to former intelligence officials. Mr. Foggo also met with representatives of Eastern European security services that had helped with the prisons. He expressed gratitude and offered assistance — a gesture the officials politely declined.
In February 2007, Mr. Foggo and Mr. Wilkes were indicted. Prosecutors believed that the C.I.A. had paid an inflated price to Archer Logistics, a business connected to Mr. Wilkes that had a $1.7 million C.I.A. supply contract. In return, the prosecutors claimed, Mr. Wilkes had taken Mr. Foggo on expensive vacations, paid for his meals at expensive restaurants and promised him a lucrative job when he retired.
“I was taking a trip with my best friend,” Mr. Foggo said in his defense. “It looked bad, but we had been taking trips together since we were 17 years old.”
Mr. Foggo said he had turned to Mr. Wilkes’ companies to bypass the cumbersome C.I.A. bureaucracy, not to provide a sweetheart deal to his oldest friend. “I needed something done by someone I trusted in private industry,” Mr. Foggo said.
Downfall in Court
Mr. Wilkes maintains his innocence, but he was eventually convicted in a bribery scandal involving former Representative Randall Cunningham of California. Mr. Foggo pleaded guilty and is serving a sentence on the fraud count, but he still maintains that he was unfairly prosecuted.
His lawyer, Mark J. MacDougall, said he believed that Mr. Foggo’s legal problems stemmed in part from controversies over his stint as executive director. “Nobody ever accused Dusty Foggo of putting a dime in his pocket, failing to do his job, or compromising national security,” Mr. MacDougall said. “Dusty may have made some mistakes, but this case was driven by professional animosity at C.I.A. and personal ambition.”
When Mr. Foggo’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to obtain access to agency files about his role in the prison program, prosecutors complained that he was trying to disclose a secret program. Mr. Foggo claimed that he was reluctant to divulge his role in classified programs and pleaded guilty, in part, to avoid revealing his secrets.
In an Aug. 1, 2007, letter, a C.I.A. lawyer informed Mr. Foggo’s lawyers that they could not review any classified files related to the prisons. The agency’s letter concluded, “In light of the president’s statements regarding the extraordinary value and sensitivity of the C.I.A. terrorist detention and interrogation program, the C.I.A. denies your request in its entirety.”
NY Times reports:
Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were military retirees and psychologists, on the lookout for business opportunities. They found an excellent customer in the Central Intelligence Agency, where in 2002 they became the architects of the most important interrogation program in the history of American counterterrorism.
They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.
But they had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.
So “Doc Mitchell” and “Doc Jessen,” as they had been known in the Air Force, helped lead the United States into a wrenching conflict over torture, terror and values that seven years later has not run its course.
Dr. Mitchell, with a sonorous Southern accent and the sometimes overbearing confidence of a self-made man, was a former Air Force explosives expert and a natural salesman. Dr. Jessen, raised on an Idaho potato farm, joined his Air Force colleague to build a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the C.I.A.
Seven months after President Obama ordered the C.I.A. interrogation program closed, its fallout still commands attention. In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to decide whether to begin a criminal torture investigation, in which the psychologists’ role is likely to come under scrutiny. The Justice Department ethics office is expected to complete a report on the lawyers who pronounced the methods legal. And the C.I.A. will soon release a highly critical 2004 report on the program by the agency’s inspector general.
Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation. He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them.
“I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”
For the C.I.A., as well as for the gray-goateed Dr. Mitchell, 58, and the trim, dark-haired Dr. Jessen, 60, the change in administrations has been neck-snapping. For years, President George W. Bush declared the interrogation program lawful and praised it for stopping attacks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, asserted that its brutality rallied recruits for Al Qaeda; called one of the methods, waterboarding, torture; and, in his first visit to the C.I.A., suggested that the interrogation program was among the agency’s “mistakes.”
The psychologists’ subsequent fall from official grace has been as swift as their rise in 2002. Today the offices of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the lucrative business they operated from a handsome century-old building in downtown Spokane, Wash., sit empty, its C.I.A. contracts abruptly terminated last spring.
With a possible criminal inquiry looming, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen have retained a well-known defense lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III. Mr. Schuelke said they would not comment for this article, which is based on dozens of interviews with the doctors’ colleagues and present and former government officials.
In a brief e-mail exchange in June, Dr. Mitchell said his nondisclosure agreement with the C.I.A. prevented him from commenting. He suggested that his work had been mischaracterized.
“Ask around,” Dr. Mitchell wrote, “and I’m sure you will find all manner of ‘experts’ who will be willing to make up what you’d like to hear on the spot and unrestrained by reality.”
A Career Shift
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Mitchell had just retired from his last military job, as psychologist to an elite special operations unit in North Carolina. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, he had started a training company called Knowledge Works, which he operated from his new home in Florida, to supplement retirement pay.
But for someone with Dr. Mitchell’s background, it was evident that the campaign against Al Qaeda would produce opportunities. He began networking in military and intelligence circles where he had a career’s worth of connections.
He had grown up poor in Florida, Dr. Mitchell told friends, and joined the Air Force in 1974, seeking adventure. Stationed in Alaska, he learned the art of disarming bombs and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
Robert J. Madigan, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska who had worked closely with him, remembered Dr. Mitchell stopping by years later. He had completed his doctorate at the University of South Florida in 1986, comparing diet and exercise in controlling hypertension, and was working for the Air Force in Spokane.
“I remember him saying they were preparing people for intense interrogations,” Dr. Madigan said.
Military survival training was expanded after the Korean War, when false confessions by American prisoners led to sensational charges of communist “brainwashing.” Military officials decided that giving service members a taste of Chinese-style interrogation would prepare them to withstand its agony.
Air Force survival training was consolidated in 1966 at Fairchild Air Force Base in the parched hills outside Spokane. The name of the training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, suggests its breadth: airmen and women learn to live off the land and avoid capture, as well as how to behave if taken prisoner.
In the 1980s, Dr. Jessen became the SERE psychologist at the Air Force Survival School, screening instructors who posed as enemy interrogators at the mock prison camp and making sure rough treatment did not go too far. He had grown up in a Mormon community with a view of Grand Teton, earning a doctorate at Utah State studying “family sculpting,” in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships.
Dr. Jessen moved in 1988 to the top psychologist’s job at a parallel “graduate school” of survival training, a short drive from the Air Force school. Dr. Mitchell took his place.
The two men became part of what some Defense Department officials called the “resistance mafia,” experts on how to resist enemy interrogations. Both lieutenant colonels and both married with children, they took weekend ice-climbing trips together.
While many subordinates considered them brainy and capable leaders, some fellow psychologists were more skeptical. At the annual conference of SERE psychologists, two colleagues recalled, Dr. Mitchell offered lengthy put-downs of presentations that did not suit him.
At the Air Force school, Dr. Mitchell was known for enforcing the safety of interrogations; it might surprise his later critics to learn that he eliminated a tactic called “manhandling” after it produced a spate of neck injuries, a colleague said.
At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.
Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his “pretty scary” performance, another official recalled.
Always, former and current SERE officials say, it is understood that the training mimics the methods of unscrupulous foes.
Mark Mays, the first psychologist at the Air Force school, said that to make the fake prison camp realistic, officials consulted American P.O.W.’s who had just returned from harrowing camps in North Vietnam.
“It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies,” said Dr. Mays, now a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane. “It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do.”
Start of the Program
In December 2001, a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered outside Philadelphia at the home of a prominent psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, to brainstorm about Muslim extremism. Among them was Dr. Mitchell, who attended with a C.I.A. psychologist, Kirk M. Hubbard.
During a break, Dr. Mitchell introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on “learned helplessness.” Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night. Later, he said, he was “grieved and horrified” to learn that his work had been cited to justify brutal interrogations.
Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.
Helplessness, which later became an influential concept in the treatment of human depression, was also much discussed in military survival training. Instructors tried to stop short of producing helplessness in trainees, since their goal was to strengthen the spirit of service members in enemy hands.
Dr. Mitchell, colleagues said, believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor’s demands. Many experienced interrogators disagreed, asserting that a prisoner so demoralized would say whatever he thought the interrogator expected.
At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques — slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding — into an American interrogation program.
By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this person’s words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required “a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.”
By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaeda’s No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.
With the backing of agency headquarters, Dr. Mitchell ordered Mr. Zubaydah stripped, exposed to cold and blasted with rock music to prevent sleep. Not only the F.B.I. agents but also C.I.A. officers at the scene were uneasy about the harsh treatment. Among those questioning the use of physical pressure, according to one official present, were the Thailand station chief, the officer overseeing the jail, a top interrogator and a top agency psychologist.
Whether they protested to C.I.A. bosses is uncertain, because the voluminous message traffic between headquarters and the Thailand site remains classified. One witness said he believed that “revisionism” in light of the torture controversy had prompted some participants to exaggerate their objections.
As the weeks passed, the senior agency psychologist departed, followed by one F.B.I. agent and then the other. Dr. Mitchell began directing the questioning and occasionally speaking directly to Mr. Zubaydah, one official said.
In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined his partner in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.
The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.
The Zubaydah case gave reason to question the Mitchell-Jessen plan: the prisoner had given up his most valuable information without coercion.
But top C.I.A. officials made no changes, and the methods would be used on at least 27 more prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The business plans of Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, meanwhile, were working out beautifully. They were paid $1,000 to $2,000 a day apiece, one official said. They had permanent desks in the Counterterrorist Center, and could now claim genuine experience in interrogating high-level Qaeda operatives.
Dr. Mitchell could keep working outside the C.I.A. as well. At the Ritz-Carlton in Maui in October 2003, he was featured at a high-priced seminar for corporations on how to behave if kidnapped. He created new companies, called Wizard Shop, later renamed Mind Science, and What If. His first company, Knowledge Works, was certified by the American Psychological Association in 2004 as a sponsor of continuing professional education. (A.P.A. dropped the certification last year.)
In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates, with offices in Spokane and Virginia and five additional shareholders, four of them from the military’s SERE program. By 2007, the company employed about 60 people, some with impressive résumés, including Deuce Martinez, a lead C.I.A. interrogator of Mr. Mohammed; Roger L. Aldrich, a legendary military survival trainer; and Karen Gardner, a senior training official at the F.B.I. Academy.
The company’s C.I.A. contracts are classified, but their total was well into the millions of dollars. In 2007 in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., Dr. Mitchell built a house with a swimming pool, now valued at $800,000.
The psychologists’ influence remained strong under four C.I.A. directors. In 2006, in fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, pushed back against the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and its methods, the director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, asked Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen to brief State Department officials and persuade them to drop their objections. They were unsuccessful.
By then, the national debate over torture had begun, and it would undo the psychologists’ business.
In a statement to employees on April 9, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama’s C.I.A. director, announced the “decommissioning” of the agency’s secret jails and repeated a pledge not to use coercion. And there was another item: “No C.I.A. contractors will conduct interrogations.”
Agency officials terminated the contracts for Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and the psychologists’ lucrative seven-year ride was over. Within days, the company had vacated its Spokane offices. The phones were disconnected, and at neighboring businesses, no one knew of a forwarding address.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 15, 2009
An article on Wednesday about two former military psychologists who designed the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program in 2002 misstated the credentials of an Air Force officer who criticized the interrogation methods but suggested that the two psychologists had acted out of patriotic motives. The officer, Steven M. Kleinman, is a career intelligence officer and former interrogator; he is not a psychologist and is not “Dr. Kleinman.” (He has master’s degrees in strategic intelligence and forensic sciences, but does not have a doctorate.)
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The New York Times reports:
An internal Justice Department inquiry has concluded that Bush administration lawyers committed serious lapses of judgment in writing secret memorandums authorizing brutal interrogations but that they should not be prosecuted, according to government officials briefed on its findings.
The report by the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal ethics unit within the Justice Department, is also likely to ask state bar associations to consider possible disciplinary action, which could include reprimands or even disbarment, for some of the lawyers involved in writing the legal opinions, the officials said.
The conclusions of the 220-page draft report are not final and have not yet been approved by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The officials said that it is possible that the final report might be subject to further revision but that they did not expect major alterations in its main findings or recommendations.
The findings, growing out of an inquiry that started in 2004, would represent a stinging rebuke of the lawyers and their legal arguments.
But they would stop short of the criminal referral sought by some human rights advocates, who have suggested that the lawyers could be prosecuted as part of a criminal conspiracy to violate the anti-torture statute. President Obama has said the Justice Department would have to decide whether the lawyers who authorized the interrogation methods should face charges, while pledging that interrogators would not be investigated or prosecuted for using techniques that the lawyers said were legal.
The draft report is described as very detailed, tracing e-mail messages between the Justice Department lawyers and officials at the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among the questions it is expected to consider is whether the memos were an independent judgment of the limits of the federal anti-torture statute or were deliberately skewed to justify the use of techniques proposed by the C.I.A.
At issue is the question of whether the lawyers acted ethically and competently in writing a series of Justice Department legal opinions from 2002 to 2007.
The opinions permitted the Central Intelligence Agency to use a number of methods that human rights groups and legal experts have condemned as torture, including waterboarding, wall-slamming and shackling for hours in a standing position. The opinions allowed many of these practices to be used repeatedly and in combination.
The main targets of criticism are John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, who, as senior officials of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were principal authors of the opinions.
It was unclear whether all three would be the subject of bar association referrals. One person who saw the report said it did not recommend bar action against Mr. Bradbury.
Mr. Bradbury, and lawyers for Mr. Yoo, now a law professor at Berkeley, and for Mr. Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge in Nevada, all declined to comment Tuesday, saying Justice Department rules require confidentiality for ethics reviews.
The work of other lawyers in the counsel’s office was also questioned in the report, the officials said, but none are believed to be the subject of disciplinary recommendations. The report reaches no conclusions about the role of lawyers at the White House or the C.I.A. because the jurisdiction of the ethics unit does not extend beyond the Justice Department.
The draft report on the interrogation opinions was completed in December and provoked controversy inside the Bush administration Justice Department. But criticism of the legal work in the memos has intensified since last month when the Obama administration disclosed one previously secret opinion from 2002, drafted mainly by Mr. Yoo and signed by Mr. Bybee, and three from 2005, signed by Mr. Bradbury, which for the first time described the coercive interrogation methods in detail.
Michael B. Mukasey, attorney general when the draft report was first completed, was said by colleagues to have been critical of its quality and upset over its scathing conclusions. He wrote a 10-page rebuttal to its findings, and, in his farewell speech to employees, warned against second-guessing the legal work of the department’s lawyers.
Several legal scholars have remarked that in approving waterboarding, the near-drowning method Mr. Obama and his aides have described as torture, the Justice Department lawyers did not cite cases in which the United States government previously prosecuted American law enforcement officials and Japanese World War II interrogators for using the procedure.
In a letter on Monday, the Justice Department advised two Democratic senators on the Judiciary committee, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, that the former department lawyers who wrote the opinions had until May 4 to submit written appeals to the findings.
The letter, written by Ronald Weich, an assistant attorney general, also said the report had been given to the C.I.A. for review and declassification, and some officials said they expected a version to be made public, probably late this month.
Mr. Durbin and Mr. Whitehouse, who have criticized the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, have repeatedly demanded the release of the report. Mr. Whitehouse is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 13, to examine issues related to the report.
The professional responsibility office first began examining the actions of the lawyers nearly five years ago. Recently, Mr. Holder named Mary Patrice Brown, a senior federal prosecutor in Washington to head the office, moving its longtime chief, H. Marshall Jarrett, to another job within the Justice Department.