June 19, 2021

CIA struggles for a new approach in Afghanistan

Washington – Quick The U.S. military has withdrawn from Afghanistan It puts intense pressure on the CIA to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counter-terrorism attacks in the country, but there are some good ways for the agency.

While the CIA, which has been at the center of a 20-year U.S. presence in Afghanistan, is closely monitoring the Taliban and Al Qaeda and other groups, it will soon lose bases from the country that carried out the war missions and drone strikes. Islamic State. Agency analysts continue to warn of the dangers of a Taliban takeover.

U.S. officials are making last-minute efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan for future operations. But the complexity of the continuing conflict led to thorny diplomatic talks, pushing the military to withdraw all its forces from mid-July to mid-July. September 11 is President Biden’s deadline, According to US officials and regional experts.

One focus is Pakistan. The CIA used a base there for years to carry out drone strikes against militants in the western mountains of the country, but was expelled from the facility in 2011 when US relations with Pakistan surfaced.

Any deal must now operate around the embarrassing reality that the Pakistani government has long supported the Taliban. In discussions between US and Pakistani officials, Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for using a base in the country, and they have effectively demanded that the CIA or the military sign off on any targets they want. According to three Americans familiar with the debate, it struck within Afghanistan.

Diplomats are also exploring the possibility of reclaiming bases in the former Soviet republics used in the war in Afghanistan, although Russian President Vladimir V. They expect Putin to strongly oppose this.

Recent CIA and military intelligence reports on Afghanistan are increasingly distrustful. They highlighted the gains of the Taliban and other militant groups in the south and east, and warned that Kabul could fall to the Taliban in the coming years and become a safe haven for militants attacking the West. Ratings.

As a result, US officials see the need for long-term intelligence gathering – in addition to military and CIA counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Shortly after the deadline set for troops to leave the country. But the fight for bases explains how US officials still do not have a long-term plan to address security in a country. It spent trillions of dollars and lost more than 2,400 troops For almost two decades.

CIA Director William J. Burns acknowledged the challenge facing the company. “When it comes time for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” he told senators in April. “This is simply a fact.”

Mr. Burns made an unannounced visit to Islamabad, Pakistan in recent weeks, meeting with the head of the Pakistani military and the head of the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s military intelligence agency. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. U.S. officials familiar with the talks say Austin III has frequently called on the Pakistani military chief to seek the country’s assistance for future US operations in Afghanistan.

Mr. Burns did not bring up the fundamental issue during his visit to Pakistan, according to people briefed at the meeting; The visit focused on the broader counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries. Mr. People briefly say that some of Austin’s arguments are more direct.

Mr. A CIA spokesman declined to comment when asked about Burns’ trip to Pakistan.

The two-decade-long war in Afghanistan has helped turn the spy agency into a paramilitary force: it conducts hundreds of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, trains Afghan commandos and maintains a large number of CIA officers at border bases in Pakistan. At one point during the first term of President Barack Obama, the company had several hundred officers in Afghanistan, which had the largest staff for a country since the Vietnam War.

These measures have come at a cost. One of the night raids on CIA-trained Afghan units The path of abuse This increased support for the Taliban in some parts of the country. Occasional misplaced drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians and increased pressure on the government in Islamabad to withdraw its peaceful support for CIA operations.

Douglas London, the former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the agency was likely to rely on a network of informants in Afghanistan to gather intelligence on the stability of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Center. Government and other topics. But he said without a major CIA in the country, exploring intelligence would be a challenge.

“When you deal with the coastal area, you are dealing with intermediaries,” Mr. London said he would soon publish a book, “The Recruiter,” about his CIA experience. “It’s like playing the phone.”

In a short time, the Pentagon will launch a warplane in Afghanistan using an aircraft carrier. But carrier stock is unlikely to be a long-term solution, with military officials saying it will be used again long after the last U.S. troops leave.

The United States deploys MQ-9 Reaper drones in the Persian Gulf region, an aircraft that can be used by both the Pentagon and the CIA for intelligence gathering and strikes.

But some officials are wary of the bottom-up options of having planes and drones fly up to nine hours on each route for a mission in Afghanistan, making operations more costly as more drones and fuel are needed, and reinforcements needed for commando raids may not come quickly during a crisis.

Longtime patron of the Pakistani Taliban; It sees the group as an important proxy force in Afghanistan against other groups with ties to India. Pakistan’s spy agency has for years provided weapons and training to Taliban militants and provided security for the group’s leaders. The government in Islamabad is unlikely to sign any US strike against the Taliban, which will start from a base in Pakistan.

Although some US officials believe that Pakistan can control how a site can be used, public opinion in the country is strongly opposed to any renewed presence of the United States as long as it can control how it is used.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last month told lawmakers that the government would not allow the US military to return to the country’s air bases. “Forget the past, but I want to tell the Pakistanis that they will not allow any US base as long as Prime Minister Imran Khan is in power,” Mr Qureshi said.

Some US officials say talks with Pakistan have stalled. Others have stated that the option is on the table and a deal is possible.

The CIA used the Shamsi air base in West Pakistan to carry out hundreds of drone strikes during an uprising that began in 2008 and in the early years of the Obama administration. The strikes were primarily aimed at suspected Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas, but they also crossed the border into Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government has refused to publicly acknowledge that it allows CIA operations, as it did in late 2011 Decided to halt drone operations After a series of high-profile events that severed ties with the United States. The arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore for a deadly shooting, a covert US commando mission in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden and a US-led NATO airstrike on the Afghan border in November 2011 killed dozens of Pakistani soldiers.

Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Hussein Haqqani, who is now a senior member of Hudson, said Americans and Pakistanis would “want to proceed with caution” with a new relationship. But, Mr. He said Biden’s announcement of a currency devaluation was “chasing the CIA and the defense establishment and the Pakistanis.”

U.S. ambassadors are exploring options to regain access to bases in Central Asia, including bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which were held by U.S. troops and intelligence officers during the war.

Foreign Secretary Anthony J. Blinken spoke with his representative in Tajikistan earlier this month, although it is unclear whether basic access was discussed during the call. Any negotiations with those countries will take considerable time to process. A State Department spokesman, Mr. Blinken would only say that the United States has been involved in partner countries in how it is restructuring its counter-terrorism capabilities.

Russia has opposed the use of bases in Central Asia, and a senior U.S. official said it could turn any diplomatic attempt to access bases for the purposes of military strikes into a slow process.

While the CIA has a pessimistic view of the possibility of stability, particularly in Afghanistan, those estimates have been refined as the Taliban have made tactical gains in recent weeks.

Although military and intelligence analysts have previously clashed with each other, they are now in broad agreement that the Afghan government may have trouble seizing power. They believe the Afghan security forces have been reduced by high accident rates in recent years. It is another psychological blow that could weaken the declarative power to withdraw the United States.

Intelligence estimates have suggested that without US support, Afghanistan’s national security forces could weaken and collapse. Authorities are working to create options to continue that support remotely, but officials believe the Pentagon has not yet come up with a realistic plan.

Some current and former officials are skeptical that remote consultation or combat operations will succeed. Mick B, a retired CIA officer who worked in Afghanistan, said it was very difficult to gather intelligence without large-scale operations. Mulroy said.

“It doesn’t matter if you can drop commands if you do not know where the target is.”

Eric Schmidt Contribution statement.