Why U.S. intelligence misjudged how long Ukraine would defend itself
Ukrainian citizens learned to make Molotov cocktails from government public service announcements, then recorded themselves setting Russian armored vehicles on fire. Ukraine’s soldiers waited in ambush and fired Western-provided missiles at Russian tanks. The country’s president recorded messages from the streets of his capital, urging his country to fight back against the invaders.
It was a stark contrast from a different set of images, just seven months ago, when the Taliban rolled into Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, unopposed. Most Afghan troops abandoned their uniforms and weapons. The president fled to the United Arab Emirates, leaving his country to the Taliban militants it had fought for some two decades.
The intelligence community and American military appear to have misjudged both countries’ will to fight, according to lawmakers. In Afghanistan, intelligence agencies had predicted the government and its forces could hold on for at least six months after the U.S. withdrawal. In Ukraine, intelligence officials thought the Russian army would take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in two days. Both estimates proved wrong.
Assessing how well and how fiercely a military, and a nation, will defend itself is extraordinarily difficult. There are many factors to consider, including its leadership, the supplies at its disposal, the strength of the enemy and whether an opposing force is seen as an invader.
The miscalculations demonstrate that even in an age of electronic intercepts and analysis assisted by vast data collection, human relationships still matter in accurately assessing the morale of a country or military. Former intelligence officials say that is why it is critically important that the perspectives of people working directly with partner forces reach policymakers in Washington.
Had the U.S. view of Afghanistan been more realistic, efforts to evacuate Afghans who had assisted the American war effort could have begun earlier — or perhaps some of the billions of dollars put toward training Kabul’s military could have been spent in other ways.
With Ukraine, according to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, if the United States had had a better sense of how strong and effective the Ukrainian resistance would be against a Russian invasion, it might have sent more weapons to the country sooner.