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May 10, 2022

On Ukraine, “A Significant Issue That We Missed” – King Urges Intelligence Community to Better Assess Will to Fight

In a hearing of the Armed Services Committee, DNI Haines commits to improve assessments of domestic leadership and force resolve

Watch Senator King’s questioning here, and download broadcast quality video here 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, today pressed members of the U.S. Intelligence Community to improve assessments of “will to fight” after intelligence reports misjudged the resolve of forces in Afghanistan and Ukraine, overestimating in the first case and underestimating in the latter. In a hearing of the Armed Services Committee, Senator King began by recognizing the tremendous efforts of the intelligence community leading up to Russia's unprovoked invasion before highlighting America’s recent failure to accurately assess the strength of competing forces and asking Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to reconsider how they evaluate the will to fight of both our allies and adversaries. Director Haines committed to taking a look at the issue.

“We all believe the Intelligence Community did a really excellent job of predicting the invasion, alerting the world as to what was going on, what the disposition of Russian troops were, the involvement of Belarus – all of that. What we missed, was the will to fight of the Ukrainians and the leadership of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and we also missed that in Afghanistan,” said Senator King. “I realize will to fight is a lot harder to assess than the number of tanks or volume of ammunition or something, but I hope the Intelligence Community is doing some soul searching about how to better get a handle on that question. We had testimony on this committee and the Intelligence Committee that Kyiv was going to fall within three days or four days and the war would last two weeks – and that turned out to be grossly wrong. Are you looking at this question of how to evaluate will to fight and domestic leadership?”

Yes Senator, you heard from General Berrier obviously a number of things the DIA is doing. For the Intelligence Community at large we have a process at the National Intelligence Council taking a look at these issues,” replied Director Haines. “It is, I would say, a combination of will to fight and capacity in effect. The two of them are issues that are, as you indicated, quite challenging to provide effective analysis on, and we’re looking at different methodologies for doing so.”


Continuing his questioning, King pressed Lieutenant General Scott Berrier – Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – how the DIA’s predictions for the war in Ukraine and Afghanistan missed the mark by such significant margins, why they failed to consider the will to fight of both forces, and if they will update their assessments for future conflicts. Calling the DIA’s view of Ukraine’s response capabilities “grossly wrong,” King also noted how better predictions could have allowed the U.S. to better support Ukraine ahead of the war.

General Berrier this is your lane, assessing military capability. A big part, as you testified earlier, the Ukraine War is going the way it is, is that the Ukrainians are fighting for their land and the Russians don’t have the same will to fight. I hope this is something you’re focused on because again, I think that we failed on this question in Afghanistan,” said Senator King. “In Afghanistan we had testimony over and over that the government would last six months or a year beyond the departure of U.S. troops; it lasted minus two weeks. Is this something that you’re focused upon?”

Senator I am focused on it, and I really appreciate this dialogue because I think there’s an important nuance that we have to discuss. One is the will to fight and the other is the capacity to fight. So in closed briefings, we talked about this capacity to fight, and given the correlation of forces that the Russians had and what the Ukrainians had, it was the thought of senior analysts that it wasn’t going to go very well for a variety of factors,” said Lieutenant General Berrier. “But there was never an Intelligence Community assessment that said that the Ukrainians lacked the will to fight. Those assessments talked about their capacity to fight.”

But there wasn’t an assessment that they did, either. The assessment was Ukraine would be overrun in a matter of weeks. That was grossly wrong,” replied Senator King.

“Well we assessed their capacity to face the size of the Russian forces that were massed on their border was going to be very difficult for them,” continued Lieutenant General Berrier.

All I’m saying is the Intelligence Community needs to be able to do a better job on this issue,” Senator King concluded. “…I’m just trying to make the point that there was a significant issue that we missed that had a major influence on how this has unfolded. And had we had a better handle on the prediction, we could have done more to assist the Ukrainians earlier.”

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