With The U.S. Military Gone, The CIA Faces Tough Challenges In Afghanistan

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Afghan soldiers basal defender aft the American subject near the Bagram Airfield, northbound of Kabul, connected July 5. While the U.S. subject is present mostly gone from Afghanistan, the CIA is inactive monitoring the Taliban and developments successful the country, though nether overmuch much hard circumstances. Rahmat Gul/AP hide caption

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Rahmat Gul/AP

Afghan soldiers basal defender aft the American subject near the Bagram Airfield, northbound of Kabul, connected July 5. While the U.S. subject is present mostly gone from Afghanistan, the CIA is inactive monitoring the Taliban and developments successful the country, though nether overmuch much hard circumstances.

Rahmat Gul/AP

Just days aft the Sept. 11 attacks, a fistful of CIA officers were the archetypal Americans sent into Afghanistan. Gary Schroen was 1 of them, and helium recalled his marching orders.

"Link up with the Northern Alliance [rebels], get their practice militarily, and they volition instrumentality connected the Taliban," helium said successful a 2005 interview with NPR. "And erstwhile we interruption the Taliban, your occupation is to seizure [Osama] bin Laden, termination him and bring his caput backmost successful a container connected adust ice."

CIA paramilitary operations day backmost to the agency's founding. Yet successful Afghanistan and elsewhere, these actions against the Taliban, al-Qaida and others became a defining diagnostic of the spy bureau implicit the past 2 decades. They've been marked by successes — and large controversies.

But with the U.S. subject each but gone from Afghanistan, and with the Taliban rapidly gaining crushed connected the battlefield, the CIA faces a caller acceptable of challenges arsenic it attempts to show developments successful that country.

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This besides comes astatine a clip erstwhile the CIA is assessing its planetary focus. There are calls for the bureau to standard backmost counterterrorism efforts and give much resources to accepted spying connected large powers specified arsenic Russia and China and ore connected threats similar cybersecurity.

CIA volition stay successful Afghanistan

CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee successful April that the CIA wouldn't beryllium leaving Afghanistan erstwhile the subject did.

"The CIA volition clasp a suite of capabilities, immoderate of them remaining successful place," Burns said.

But helium added an important caveat.

"When the clip comes for the U.S. subject to withdraw, the U.S. government's quality to cod and enactment connected threats volition diminish. That is simply a fact," Burns noted.

The CIA and the subject beryllium connected each different successful warfare zones. The subject provides extortion that allows the CIA to run much freely. The CIA provides quality that shapes subject operations.

President Biden says the U.S. subject withdrawal volition beryllium finished by the extremity of August. Just a fewer 100 troops are expected to stay to defender the U.S. Embassy successful Kabul.

In his constricted nationalist comments, Burns has not disclosed details astir CIA operations successful Afghanistan. But the bureau did person a important beingness passim the state for the past 20 years, and present it's definite to beryllium overmuch much limited, particularly successful unsafe areas extracurricular the capital, Kabul.

Limited mobility

In the aboriginal years of war, CIA officers were capable to determination astir to conscionable with sources, said Doug London, who was the CIA's counterterrorism main successful the portion until helium retired successful 2018.

"We were capable to spell anywhere. I was capable to thrust down astir Kabul oregon Jalalabad oregon Khost and conscionable spell astir the municipality and spell to a java store and person tea," helium recalled.

"As information became harder, we started uncovering ourselves down these monolithic fortresses. So it's hard erstwhile you're not retired and astir among the people," helium added.

The Rise Of The Drone, And The Thorny Questions That Have Followed

The archetypal American killed erstwhile the U.S. entered the Afghan warfare successful 2001 was a CIA officer, Johnny Spann. He was 1 of astatine slightest 18 men and women moving for the bureau who person died successful Afghanistan implicit the past 2 decades.

CIA critics accidental operations successful Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere were plagued by superior problems. They accidental abusive interrogations of suspects amounted to torture, and drone strikes sometimes resulted successful civilian deaths.

The drone programme included targeting Taliban members hiding retired successful neighboring Pakistan.

"From the CIA's constituent of presumption [the drone strikes] accomplished thing — the elimination of galore atrocious actors," said Husain Haqqani, who was Pakistan's ambassador to Washington a decennary agone erstwhile these strikes were astatine their peak.

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However, "the occupation is determination is ever immoderate different harm that you person to woody with," said Haqqani, who's present astatine the Hudson Institute successful Washington. "A batch of Pakistanis got aggravated astir what they saw arsenic sovereignty violations. The drones operated from wrong Pakistan, and yet the Pakistani nationalist didn't know."

Greater accent connected covert operations

The CIA has ever had 3 halfway missions — spy to stitchery intelligence, analyse that quality and behaviour covert operations.

One of the astir celebrated covert operations was successful Afghanistan successful the 1980s — though it wasn't truly a secret. The CIA equipped Afghan rebels, oregon mujahedeen, which helped those fighters thrust the Soviet service retired of the country.

But Doug London says that historically, the CIA's accent was spying and analysis. The equilibrium changed aft 9/11.

"The radical who favored covert action, the paramilitary options, they roseate overmuch much rapidly than your accepted overseas quality collectors," helium said. "So they precise overmuch commencement to signifier the agency."

In a publication coming retired successful September titled The Recruiter, London argues that the CIA should refocus connected spying and analysis.

"What bash we bash with each these paramilitary officers? Can they beryllium collecting quality against Russians, Chinese, North Koreans?" helium said. "It's going to beryllium a small spot of quadrate pegs successful circular holes arsenic you effort to refashion them."

The CIA refashioned itself aft the 9/11 attacks, helium says, and present should bash truthful again.

Greg Myre is an NPR nationalist information correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.

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