Home News C.I.A. Scrambles for New Method in Afghanistan

C.I.A. Scrambles for New Method in Afghanistan


WASHINGTON — The speedy U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating intense stress on the C.I.A. to seek out new methods to assemble intelligence and perform counterterrorism strikes within the nation, however the company has few good choices.

The C.I.A., which has been on the coronary heart of the 20-year American presence in Afghanistan, will quickly lose bases within the nation from the place it has run fight missions and drone strikes whereas intently monitoring the Taliban and different teams akin to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The company’s analysts are warning of the ever-growing dangers of a Taliban takeover.

United States officers are in last-minute efforts to safe bases near Afghanistan for future operations. However the complexity of the persevering with battle has led to thorny diplomatic negotiations because the navy pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, effectively earlier than President Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11, based on American officers and regional specialists.

One focus has been Pakistan. The C.I.A. used a base there for years to launch drone strikes towards militants within the nation’s western mountains, however was kicked out of the power in 2011, when U.S. relations with Pakistan unraveled.

Any deal now must work across the uncomfortable actuality that Pakistan’s authorities has lengthy supported the Taliban. In discussions between American and Pakistani officers, the Pakistanis have demanded quite a lot of restrictions in change for using a base within the nation, and so they have successfully required that they log out on any targets that both the C.I.A. or the navy would wish to hit inside Afghanistan, based on three Individuals accustomed to the discussions.

Diplomats are additionally exploring the choice of regaining entry to bases in former Soviet republics that had been used for the Afghanistan warfare, though they count on that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would fiercely oppose this.

Current C.I.A. and navy intelligence studies on Afghanistan have been more and more pessimistic. They’ve highlighted beneficial properties by the Taliban and different militant teams within the south and east, and warned that Kabul might fall to the Taliban inside years and return to turning into a protected haven for militants bent on putting the West, based on a number of folks accustomed to the assessments.

Consequently, U.S. officers see the necessity for a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — along with navy and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations — in Afghanistan lengthy after the deadline that Mr. Biden has set for troops to depart the nation. However the scramble for bases illustrates how U.S. officers nonetheless lack a long-term plan to handle safety in a rustic the place they’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost more than 2,400 troops over almost twenty years.

William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, has acknowledged the problem the company faces. “When the time comes for the U.S. navy to withdraw, the U.S. authorities’s capacity to gather and act on threats will diminish,” he informed senators in April. “That’s merely a reality.”

Mr. Burns made an unannounced go to in current weeks to Islamabad, Pakistan, to fulfill with the chief of the Pakistani navy and the top of the directorate of Inter-Companies Intelligence, the nation’s navy intelligence company. Protection Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has had frequent calls with the Pakistani navy chief about getting the nation’s assist for future U.S. operations in Afghanistan, based on American officers accustomed to the conversations.

Mr. Burns didn’t convey up the bottom problem throughout his journey to Pakistan, based on folks briefed on the assembly; the go to targeted on broader counterterrorism cooperation between the 2 international locations. At the very least a few of Mr. Austin’s discussions have been extra direct, based on folks briefed on them.

A C.I.A. spokeswoman declined to remark when requested about Mr. Burns’s journey to Pakistan.

20 years of warfare in Afghanistan have helped rework the spy company right into a paramilitary group: It carries out a whole bunch of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, trains Afghan commando items and maintains a big presence of C.I.A. officers in a string of bases alongside the border with Pakistan. At one level throughout President Barack Obama’s first time period, the company had a number of hundred officers in Afghanistan, its largest surge of personnel to a rustic for the reason that Vietnam Battle.

These operations have come at a value. Night time raids by C.I.A.-trained Afghan items left a trail of abuse that elevated help for the Taliban in elements of the nation. Occasional errant drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians and elevated stress on the federal government in Islamabad to dial again its quiet help for C.I.A. operations.

Douglas London, a former head of C.I.A. counterterrorism operations for Afghanistan and Pakistan, mentioned that the company was prone to depend on a “keep behind” community of informants in Afghanistan who would acquire intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the steadiness of the central authorities and different subjects. However with out a big C.I.A. presence within the nation, he mentioned, vetting the intelligence could be a problem.

“While you’re dealing offshore, you’re coping with middlemen,” mentioned Mr. London, who will quickly publish a guide, “The Recruiter,” about his C.I.A. expertise. “It’s form of like taking part in phone.”

Within the brief time period, the Pentagon is utilizing an plane service to launch fighter planes in Afghanistan to help the troop withdrawal. However the service presence is unlikely to be a long-term answer, and navy officers mentioned it might in all probability redeploy not lengthy after the final U.S. forces go away.

America is stationing MQ-9 Reaper drones within the Persian Gulf area, plane that can be utilized by each the Pentagon and the C.I.A. for intelligence assortment and strikes.

However some officers are cautious of those so-called over the horizon choices that may require aircraft and drones to fly as many as 9 hours every approach for a mission in Afghanistan, which might make the operations dearer as a result of they require extra drones and gas, and likewise riskier as a result of reinforcements wanted for commando raids couldn’t arrive swiftly throughout a disaster.

Pakistan is a longtime patron of the Taliban; it sees the group as a important proxy drive in Afghanistan towards different teams which have ties to India. Pakistan’s spy company offered weapons and coaching for Taliban fighters for years, in addition to safety for the group’s leaders. The federal government in Islamabad is unlikely to log out on any U.S. strikes towards the Taliban which might be launched from a base in Pakistan.

Though some American officers consider Pakistan desires to permit U.S. entry to a base so long as it may well management how it’s used, public opinion within the nation has been strongly towards any renewed presence by america.

Pakistan’s international minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, informed lawmakers final month that the federal government wouldn’t enable the U.S. navy to return to the nation’s air bases. “Neglect the previous, however I wish to inform the Pakistanis that no U.S. base will probably be allowed by Prime Minister Imran Khan so lengthy he’s in energy,” Mr. Qureshi mentioned.

Some American officers mentioned that negotiations with Pakistan had reached an deadlock for now. Others have mentioned the choice stays on the desk and a deal is feasible.

The C.I.A. used the Shamsi air base in western Pakistan to hold out a whole bunch of drone strikes throughout a surge that started in 2008 and lasted through the early years of the Obama administration. The strikes targeted totally on suspected Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas, however in addition they crossed the border into Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s authorities refused to publicly acknowledge that it was permitting the C.I.A. operations, and in late 2011 it decided to halt the drone operations after a sequence of high-profile occasions that fractured relations with america. They included the arrest of a C.I.A. contractor in Lahore for taking pictures unarmed civilians, the key American commando mission in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden and an American-led NATO airstrike on the Afghan border in November 2011 that killed dozens of Pakistani troopers.

The Individuals and the Pakistanis “will wish to proceed cautiously” with a brand new relationship, mentioned Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to america who’s now a senior fellow on the Hudson Institute. However, he mentioned, Mr. Biden’s announcement of a withdrawal “has the C.I.A. and the Protection Division, in addition to Pakistanis, scrambling.”

American diplomats have been exploring choices to revive entry to bases in Central Asia, together with websites in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that housed American troops and intelligence officers through the warfare.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke this month along with his counterpart in Tajikistan, although it isn’t clear if base entry was mentioned through the name. Any negotiations with these international locations are prone to take appreciable time to work out. A State Division spokeswoman would say solely that Mr. Blinken was participating accomplice international locations on how america was reorganizing its counterterrorism capabilities.

Russia has opposed america utilizing bases in Central Asia, and that’s prone to make any diplomatic effort to safe entry to bases for the needs of navy strikes a sluggish course of, based on a senior American official.

Whereas the C.I.A. specifically has lengthy had a pessimistic view of the prospects of stability in Afghanistan, these assessments have been refined in current weeks because the Taliban has made tactical beneficial properties.

Whereas navy and intelligence analysts have beforehand had assessments at odds with each other, they now are in broad settlement that the Afghan authorities is prone to have hassle holding on to energy. They consider the Afghan safety forces have been depleted by excessive casualty charges lately. The announcement of the U.S. withdrawal is one other psychological blow that might weaken the drive.

Intelligence assessments have mentioned that with out continued American help, the Afghan Nationwide Safety Forces will weaken and will presumably collapse. Officers are working to develop choices for persevering with that help remotely, however the Pentagon has not but give you a practical plan that officers consider will work.

Some present and former officers are skeptical that distant advising or fight operations will succeed. Amassing intelligence turns into far harder with out a big presence in Afghanistan, mentioned Mick P. Mulroy, a retired C.I.A. officer who served there.

“It doesn’t matter when you can drop ordinance,” he mentioned, “when you don’t know the place the goal is.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.