CIA caught in dirty and secretive war against al-Qaeda on Afghan
It is beginning to seem like the CIA has become the main operating front in the war in Afghanistan.
The C.I.A. has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small and seldom used — part of its operations. That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush gave the agency expanded authority to capture or kill Qaeda operatives around the world.
President Obama scaled back the C.I.A.’s counter terrorism mission, but only to a point. He ordered that C.I.A. prisons be shut and that C.I.A officers no longer play a role in interrogating suspects accused of terrorist acts.
However, in In early 2009, the White House approved a C.I.A. plan to expand the drone operations in Pakistan into Baluchistan, where top leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia are thought to be hiding.
Similarly, the US has accelerated the C.I.A.’s drone campaign, using Predator and Reaper aircraft to launch missiles and rockets against militants in Pakistan.
Washington has come to rely on the Special Activities Division on the premise that battling terrorists does not involve fighting armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.
The deaths of seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan are a pointed example of the civilian spy agency’s transformation in recent years into a paramilitary organization at the vanguard of America’s far-flung wars.
C.I.A. personnel regularly take foreign agents onto the base before sending them on intelligence collection missions in eastern Afghanistan and across the border into Pakistan, said one Pentagon consultant who works closely with the C.I.A. in Afghanistan.
“You must to some degree make yourself known to people you don’t trust,” said one American intelligence official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke anonymously to discuss classified information.
The bomber appears to have worn an explosives-laden suicide vest under an Afghan National Army uniform, two NATO officials said Thursday. The attack happened close to dusk, when some people at the base were relaxing before dinner.
In a statement to the C.I.A.’s work force, President Obama said that the spy agency had been “tested as never before,” and that C.I.A. operatives had “served on the front lines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century.”
Forward Operating Base Chapman sits in an isolated spot several miles from the town of Khost, but not far from Camp Salerno, a larger base used by Special Operations troops.
American officials said that the C.I.A. base had been a focal point for counterterrorism operations against the Haqqani network, a particularly lethal militant group that operates on both sides of the Afghan border.
“Those guys have recently been on a big Haqqani binge,” said the Pentagon consultant. “I would be really shocked if the bombing on Wednesday wasn’t some kind of retaliation.”
There was an air of defiance among intelligence officials on the day after the attack, and some spoke of their fallen comrades using military language.
“There is no pullout,” the American intelligence official said. “There is no withdrawal or anything like that planned.”
The fact that the agency is in effect running a war in Pakistan is the culmination of one of the most significant shifts in the C.I.A.’s history. But the agency has at times struggled with this new role. It established a network of secret overseas jails where terrorist suspects were subjected to brutal interrogation techniques, and it set up an assassination program that at one point was outsourced to employees of a private security company, then known as Blackwater USA.
Some longtime agency officers bristled at what they saw as the militarization of the C.I.A., worrying that it was straying too far from its historical missions of espionage and intelligence analysis.
One hopes that the DOD surge in military operations are supporting the CIA. Its bad enough that the US lost its CIA Station Chief and seven others this weekend. That is a major hole in the US counter terrorism efforts to sideline Al Qaeda - the justification for the continued presence of US troops in Afghanistan.
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