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

WASHINGTON — The speedy U.S. army withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating intense stress on the C.I.A. to search 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 corresponding 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 army pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, effectively earlier than President Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11, in accordance with American officers and regional consultants.

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 trade 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 army would wish to hit inside Afghanistan, in accordance with three People accustomed to the discussions.

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

Latest C.I.A. and army intelligence stories 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 changing into a protected haven for militants bent on placing the West, in accordance with a number of individuals accustomed to the assessments.

Consequently, U.S. officers see the necessity for a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — along with army and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations — in Afghanistan lengthy after the deadline that Mr. Biden has set for troops to go away 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 misplaced greater than 2,400 troops over practically 20 years.

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

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

Mr. Burns didn’t deliver up the bottom problem throughout his journey to Pakistan, in accordance with individuals briefed on the assembly; the go to centered on broader counterterrorism cooperation between the 2 international locations. No less than a few of Mr. Austin’s discussions have been extra direct, in accordance with individuals 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 remodel 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 because the Vietnam Battle.

These operations have come at a price. Evening raids by C.I.A.-trained Afghan items left a path 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 more likely to depend on a “keep behind” community of informants in Afghanistan who would gather intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the soundness of the central authorities and different subjects. However with out a big C.I.A. presence within the nation, he mentioned, vetting the intelligence can be a problem.

“Whenever you’re dealing offshore, you’re coping with middlemen,” mentioned Mr. London, who will quickly publish a e book, “The Recruiter,” about his C.I.A. expertise. “It’s form of like enjoying 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 resolution, and army officers mentioned it could in all probability redeploy not lengthy after the final U.S. forces depart.

The US 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 method for a mission in Afghanistan, which might make the operations costlier as a result of they require extra drones and gasoline, 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 crucial proxy power in Afghanistan towards different teams which have ties to India. Pakistan’s spy company supplied 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 imagine Pakistan needs to permit U.S. entry to a base so long as it might probably management how it’s used, public opinion within the nation has been strongly towards any renewed presence by the US.

Pakistan’s international minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, informed lawmakers final month that the federal government wouldn’t permit the U.S. army to return to the nation’s air bases. “Neglect the previous, however I wish to inform the Pakistanis that no U.S. base can 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 throughout the early years of the Obama administration. The strikes centered totally on suspected Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas, however additionally 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 determined to halt the drone operations after a collection of high-profile occasions that fractured relations with the US. They included the arrest of a C.I.A. contractor in Lahore for capturing 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 People and the Pakistanis “will wish to proceed cautiously” with a brand new relationship, mentioned Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US 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 throughout the warfare.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke this month together with his counterpart in Tajikistan, although it’s not clear if base entry was mentioned throughout the name. Any negotiations with these international locations are more likely to take appreciable time to work out. A State Division spokeswoman would say solely that Mr. Blinken was partaking companion international locations on how the US was reorganizing its counterterrorism capabilities.

Russia has opposed the US utilizing bases in Central Asia, and that’s more likely to make any diplomatic effort to safe entry to bases for the needs of army strikes a gradual course of, in accordance with a senior American official.

Whereas the C.I.A. particularly 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 army and intelligence analysts have beforehand had assessments at odds with each other, they now are in broad settlement that the Afghan authorities is more likely to have bother holding on to energy. They imagine 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 would weaken the power.

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 sensible plan that officers imagine 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 in case you can drop ordinance,” he mentioned, “in case you don’t know the place the goal is.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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