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U.S. floats pulling Afghan-based CIA

by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Julian E. Barnes The New York Times | April 18, 2020 at 4:46 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The United States is considering pulling back front-line CIA personnel from bases in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials, as part of the U.S. government's effort to further reduce violence in the country in the wake of its landmark peace agreement with the Taliban.

The deliberations over the CIA presence in the country are part of larger discussions about pulling back international forces to push forward the peace plan, which shows signs of floundering amid continuing violence.

Top Taliban leaders have demanded reductions in the CIA presence in the country alongside U.S. troops, something that until now U.S. negotiators have resisted. There are thought to be several hundred CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan, a number that fluctuates often.

CIA personnel operate in various places around the country, advising militia groups. The operations began as part of an effort to hunt al-Qaida before shifting to targeting organizations including the Haqqani network, among the most violent groups in Afghanistan and a significant source of income for the Taliban.

One move being discussed would relocate agency personnel to the embassy in Kabul, enabling some level of U.S. advice to militia groups operating under the oversight of Afghanistan's intelligence service. Officials cautioned that deliberations continued and various plans were under consideration.

Including the CIA's presence in negotiations with the Taliban is Washington's latest effort to use what bargaining chips it has left with the insurgent group.

U.S. negotiators believe that to save the peace plan they need to find some way to stop the Taliban from brutalizing Afghan forces.

But the Taliban's move to curtail the agency's operations is centered around its income stream, specifically the Haqqani's network of illicit and legal operations that make up a significant chunk of the insurgent group's coffers, officials said.

Still, the withdrawal of Americans from front-line positions and pulling them back to Kabul would make it harder to ensure the fragile alliances between the country's tribes and local power holders and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul remain.

"What is important to the United States government is that the Taliban and the Afghan government work to prevent a terrorist group from establishing itself again in Afghanistan, creating a state within a state, and eventually conducting another international terrorist attack," said Lisa Maddox, a former CIA officer.

A Section on 04/18/2020

Print Headline: U.S. floats pulling Afghan-based CIA


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