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"If you're a nosy person, it's an awesome job," says Army Spc. David Daney, a member of the intelligence cell at Camp Lagman in southeastern Afghanistan. Pictured from left to right are: Capt. James Kretzschmar, Spc. Jessica Tessene, Daney and Staff Sgt. Sara Rubino.

"If you're a nosy person, it's an awesome job," says Army Spc. David Daney, a member of the intelligence cell at Camp Lagman in southeastern Afghanistan. Pictured from left to right are: Capt. James Kretzschmar, Spc. Jessica Tessene, Daney and Staff Sgt. Sara Rubino. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

Mideast edition, Sunday, May 27, 2007

QALAT, Afghanistan — Afghanistan is a country where the literacy rate is roughly 30 percent.

But no matter where you go in the country, most U.S. and coalition soldiers routinely use words and phrases such as “resourceful,” “inquisitive,” “quick to learn” and “street smart” to characterize the Afghan aptitude.

That applies to unfriendly Afghans as well.

“You have to have respect for them,” Staff Sgt. Chris Bryant, a platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division, said of the enemy. “They’re not dumb.”

Intelligence personnel working in Afghanistan know this all too well. That incongruity between illiteracy and ingenuity is just one of many things intelligence teams take into account when assessing the capabilities and limitations of the enemy in Afghanistan.

“An intelligence officer has to think like the enemy,” said Romanian army Capt. Mihai Anton, who is assigned to Camp Lagman in southeastern Afghanistan. “He has to foresee enemy actions.”

As a rule, intelligence personnel prefer to operate in the shadows, often behind closed doors with combination locks. When they do sit down to talk on the record they tend to speak in generalities, loath to say anything that might compromise their work or the overall mission.

In the Lagman tactical operations center, near to where Anton works, is a four-member U.S. Army intelligence team led by Capt. James Kretzschmar. In the office, posted above the printer, is a copy of the creed for their career field. Toward the bottom it reads: “Always at silent war while ready for a shooting war.”

Kretzschmar, a New Yorker who is an avid Boston Red Sox fan, stuck to protocol when he spoke of his line of work.

“I can’t discuss how and where we get our information,” Kretzschmar began, as he laid out a few ground rules.

But it’s no secret that intelligence comes from a variety of sources. There are the high-tech methods, from unmanned aerial drones to communication intercepts. And then there is human intelligence gathering, be it observers or material gleaned from captured fighters or documents.

The Lagman crew does a lot of analytical work on material gathered by troops in the field or higher headquarters. Each may have different snippets of information on a particular situation, but they need Kretzschmar’s team to analyze what it all may mean.

“There are so many missing pieces,” said Spc. Jessica Tessene, an intelligence analyst, “and we have to piece it together.”

That often involves making an educated guess.

Spc. David Daney, another analyst, said there could be reports, for example, of a group intending to haul a heavy artillery piece to the top of a hill. But, logically, it may not fit because of the difficulty of getting it up the hill undetected or the group’s tendency not to expose such a valuable piece of equipment, knowing it’ll get targeted as soon as they fire it.

“Logic comes into it,” Daney said. “You have to have an analytical mind.”

Daney has learned the value of not making definitive statements unless all the pieces are in place. He and others on the intelligence team said incorrect assessments linger longer in people’s minds than a correct one.

“It’s quite challenging,” Kretzschmar said. “You try to stay one step ahead of the insurgents. Sometimes you are right. Sometimes you are wrong. It’s just a lot more rewarding when you are right.”

That’s because civilian and military lives can be at stake.

When Daney was in another career field he said he never fully appreciated all the work that went into the briefings he would regularly receive.

Soldiers generally “don’t realize there are people behind the scenes trying to get them home,” Daney said. “These soldiers just don’t go out there blind.”

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