CIA Winds Down Operations in Afghanistan

Tuesday, 23 Jul 2013 11:33 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Drawing the curtain on more than a decade of antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan by America’s spy agency, the CIA as begun to shutter some of its dozen secret bases there, the Washington Post reported Tuesday night.

The closures are the first steps in a plan to slash as many as six CIA installations over the next two years — a move that will coincide with the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan by 2014, the newspaper said, citing unnamed intelligence and administration officials.

The pullback reflects the reduced threat from al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan, the need to focus on challenges in the Middle East — and CIA chief John Brennan’s desire to restore the agency’s focus on traditional espionage, the paper said.

“When we look at post-2014, how does the threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan measure against the threat in North Africa and Yemen?” asked one senior administration official. “Shouldn’t our resources reflect that?”

U.S. officials, however, intend to keep open its station in Kabul — among the agency’s largest in the world — and a fleet of armed drones that are flown from an airstrip in Jalalabad, near the Pakistan border.

At its height, more than 1,000 case officers, analysts and other workers were deployed to Afghanistan to support the war effort and hunt down al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, the newspaper noted.

The CIA declined to comment to the Post about the withdrawal.

“Afghanistan fundamentally changed the way the agency conducts business,” retired senior CIA officer Richard Bleetold the Post. “We went from a purely espionage organization to more of an offensive weapon, a paramilitary organization where classic spying was less important.”

The newspaper said the agency plans to place most agency personnel at Kabul as well as the “big five” regional bases in Bagram, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad, and Herat.

The shuttered bases are along the Pakistan border — and include Forward Operating Base Chapman, near Khost, where seven CIA employees were killed by a suicide bomber posing as a potential informant in 2009.

Despite the pullout of U.S. troops and CIA operatives, officials told the Post the drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere is expected to continue for years.

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