WASHINGTON — Congress is set to force the Pentagon to study how it assesses allies’ combat readiness, amid criticism from lawmakers that the U.S. government has routinely failed to make such assessments accurately.
A provision approved for inclusion in the Senate version of the annual defense policy bill would require a study by the Department of Defense into how it judges the willingness of foreign military personnel to fight their enemies.
In Afghanistan, some US officials believed that the Afghan army could hold its own and continue to fight the Taliban after the US withdrawal. In Ukraine, US officials originally expected the Russians to take Kyiv, the capital, within days. Both predictions were wrong.
While the Pentagon has acknowledged problems with its assessment of the Afghan military, it has pushed back against accusations that it misjudged Ukraine. Intelligence officials said errors in predicting the course of the Russian invasion were more a matter of overestimating the Russians than underestimating the Ukrainians.
Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent who lobbied for the provision to be included in the annual bill, said the Pentagon and intelligence agencies made mistakes in judging an ally’s will to fight, but that such assessments are much more difficult and more subjective. , than to count the tanks.
Better understand the Russian-Ukrainian war
“I’m not naive enough to think it’s easy or straightforward,” Mr King said. “What I believe is that it’s damn important and we need to do a better job. In one year we’ve had two pretty direct failures in the opposite direction.
Lawmakers from both parties echoed King’s views, but a Pentagon spokesman disputed the claim that Ukrainians had been underestimated.
“The Department respectfully rejects the suggestion that there was any doubt about Ukraine’s will to fight,” said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Anton T. Semelroth, Department of Defense spokesman. Defense. “It remains inspiring to see the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people as they stand up against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion.”
During a hearing before the Senate Armaments Services Committee in May, Mr. King argued with Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, about whether the Pentagon had misjudged the capacity of Ukrainian and Russian forces rather than the will of the Ukrainian army.
The Pentagon, Mr. King said on Wednesday, needs to study what went wrong, where the errors in judgment were made and whether there is a better way to make predictions. The provision would require the report to be completed by next April. April D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, has begun a review of how US spy agencies assessed Ukrainian and Afghan military personnel.
The studies are important, King said, because had better predictions been made about the resilience of Afghan forces, the military withdrawal from Afghanistan might have proceeded differently. If the United States had predicted success in the fight against Ukraine, the government might have moved more equipment there faster.
“Intelligence is often shaped by the perception of the viewer, the listener,” Mr. King said. “And the challenge for policy makers is to have clear and unvarnished information, even if it may contradict their policy preference.”
In the case of Afghanistan, King said intelligence informants had been far more lucid than the Pentagon on Afghan military issues. The can-do attitude of the US military, Mr. King said, appears to interfere with accurate predictions.
Pentagon officials declined to comment on the provision, which has yet to be voted on by the full Senate. The Defense Policy Bill has been passed annually, although final approval is usually nearing its end.
While Pentagon officials and lawmakers disagree on why the predictions of the Russian advance were wrong, they do agree that a review of assessments of the Afghan war is needed. The military, officials said, is committed to better understanding what went wrong in Afghanistan and where the Pentagon went wrong in its predictions.
“The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ unwillingness to fight was a major contributor to their eventual collapse,” said Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman. “They had the people. They had the material. They had the training. They had the support.
Major Lodewick said that while Afghan forces had struggled with corruption and desertions, the Pentagon planned to continue supporting them with logistics and maintenance from outside Afghanistan after the withdrawal.
“Long-term engagements like these, however, can only accomplish so much if the recipient forces are unwilling to stand up and fight,” Major Lodewick said. “You only have to look at the current situation in Ukraine to see an example of what an equipped, trained and resilient force can achieve.