As Michael Yon recently posted on Facebook, there are many groups and organizations besides NATO and the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan working in parallel and coordination to bring the country from the brink of collapse:
The CIA is an organization that is well known for the work its agents do across borders, around the world and in some of the most hostile and dangerous environments, even though we may not be aware of what the work entails. The recent killing of CIA officers in Afghanistan, however, highlights for us the role in which the organization has placed itself within the Central Asia theater and beyond. The New York Times recently wrote about this on December 31st, in the article titled "C.I.A. Takes on Bigger and Riskier Role on Front Lines:"
"The deaths of seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan are a pointed example of the civilian spy agency’s transformation in recent years into a paramilitary organization at the vanguard of America’s far-flung wars.
"Even as the C.I.A. expands its role in Afghanistan, it is also playing a greater role in quasi-military operations elsewhere, using drone aircraft to launch a steady barrage of missile strikes in Pakistan and sending more operatives to Yemen to assist local officials in their attempts to roll back Al Qaeda’s momentum in that country.
"The C.I.A. operatives stationed at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, where Wednesday’s suicide bombing occurred, were responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders. In recent months, American officials said, C.I.A. officers at the base had begun an aggressive campaign against a radical group run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which has claimed responsibility for the deaths of dozens of American troops."
The C.I.A. has often been criticized for its retreat from the above mentioned lands, amongst others, leading up to 9/11, so as it attempts to rebuild its on-the-ground network of in-house and outsourced agents and informant networks, there will undoubtedly be setbacks such as this horrible event:
"The C.I.A. has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small — and seldom used — part of its operations.
"That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush gave the agency expanded authority to capture or kill Qaeda operatives around the world. Since then, Washington has relied much more on the Special Activities Division because battling suspected terrorists does not involve fighting other armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.
"The fact that the agency is in effect running a war in Pakistan is the culmination of one of the most significant shifts in the C.I.A.’s history..."
If we briefly recall my recent post on the history of modern war in Afghanistan leading up to 9/11, the last time the C.I.A. was this deeply involved in the region is now about 20-25 years ago. The agency is most likely now trying to develop a new generation of agents with expertise on Central Asia, and this is a horrific blow to the effort of establishing the underlying human architecture for successful counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. The question now is: what is the impact on the counterterrosim and counterinsurgency program being deployed as we speak? Does this severely degrade the strategy driving these programs?
The Wall Street Journal, in an article from today titled "Killings Rock Afghan Strategy" seems to think there is a decidedly negative impact at the strategic level:
"The attack that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency officers on a U.S. base in Afghanistan appears to stem from a strategy of calculated risk in running the spy agency's informant network, posing a sharp challenge as operations ramp up for the Obama troop surge...
"...Such risks will be amplified as the CIA ramps up its operations in Afghanistan to accompany the military surge President Barack Obama has ordered. The CIA expects to increase its own forces by 20% to 25% in the next 18 months, said one U.S. intelligence official.
"The death toll is the largest suffered by the spy agency in three decades and has wiped out decades of experience in counterterrorism, current and former officials say. One former CIA official said the base chief, a mother of three, had counterterrorism experience dating to the agency's Alec Station, created to monitor Osama bin Laden years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
I don't personally believe that this event by itself should detrimentally impact the overall strategy for operations in and around Afghanistan; however, the coming months will demonstrate whether the C.I.A. will continue to take such risks and aggresively pursue its strategy. The temptation to step back and restrict further actions will undoubtedly hang in the air. But as Michael Yon states, "it is important that they mourn their losses, stay hard in the fight, and continue with their important contributions" in such a challenging and dangerous cross border environment.