Risk Areas

2.2 Intelligence dependence

Explanation of risk area

Reliance on and cooperation with local stakeholders is a necessary and usual way of obtaining intelligence and understanding the operational theatre. However, excessive reliance on one or very few sources of information can produce a skewed, inaccurate operational picture. It can also empower the source of the mission’s information, enabling them to use the mission’s action for their own ends and to use the position of trust for private or group gain. This is particularly dangerous if, apart from providing intelligence, local stakeholders also derive benefits from mission sustainment contracts or provide militia for base security.

Consequences for the mission

Unreliable operational information leading to ineffective operational design

Inadvertent targeting of friendly or neutral networks

Creating space for adversaries to regroup and strengthen

Growth of criminal patronage networks

Harm to civilian population


Case Study: Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords

Gul Agha Sherzai and intelligence dependence in Afghanistan

In the Afghan province of Kandahar, Operation Enduring Freedom’s excessive reliance on information obtained from Governor Gul Agha Sherzai gave Sherzai the means to consolidate his economic and political position in the province. Having secured a privileged position as a supplier of materiel and labour to US forces at Kandahar Airfield, Sherzai offered desired intelligence on Taliban networks in order to preserve his position as the preferred ally – which in turn enabled him to build up his own political and economic reach. However, with Taliban networks at their lowest ebb in 2002-2003, the ‘intelligence’ often pointed to individuals with at best tenuous and at worst entirely unproven involvement with the insurgency. Simultaneously, militia connected to Sherzai and given free rein to operate across Kandahar province used their trusted position with OEF forces to threaten arbitrarily US arrests and profit from bribes for individuals’ release.

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Indicators & Warnings

Information procured predominantly from one source

Little to no contact with the local population

A few selected actors acting as gatekeepers for others, creating an imbalance of power

Information not confirmed during operations