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US withdrawal from Afghanistan: Focus shifted to China; Unraveling of extensive CIA network

TBL web desk

On Sunday, April 18, the US decision to pull out its troops from Afghanistan was defended by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He said that threat of terror had moved somewhere else and now the priority of Washington should be to refocus the resources on other challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and China.

Last week, US President announced the withdrawal of remaining US troops from Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, and hence to end the longest war of America.

Although there has become a deadlock between the Talibani rebels and the Afghan government, the unconditional pullout will come four months later the agreed deadline between the Trump administration and the Taliban.

US’s move of withdrawal has been argued by CIA head William Burns and some generals of US including the Chief of armed forces-David Petraeus by saying that the pullout can result in more violence in the country and make America more vulnerable to terror attacks.

Mr. Blinken told ABC’s “This Week”, “The terrorism threat has moved to other places. And we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to Covid.” He added, “And that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.”

Last week in Kabul, Mr. Blinken held a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and some senior officials of the US to tell them about Biden’s announcement to put an end to the “forever war” which began after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He told to ABC, “The United States had “achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve”. He further said, “Al-Qaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States now from Afghanistan is not there.”

He added that Washington is able to take action in “real-time” against any move by the Taliban. He stated, “So if they start something up again, they’re going to be in a long war that’s not in their interest either.”

CIA network will be broken by the Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The withdrawal plan of President Joe Biden includes the intense unraveling of the extensive intelligence and secret action network built by the US in Afghanistan since 9/11 as a part of the global war on terror.

Some current and former officials told CNN that if not all, most of the CIA operators active in Afghanistan are definite to leave. On-the-ground intelligence becomes more dangerous and difficult in absence of the military.

However, a final decision is yet to be made as to the status of CIA paramilitary officers, a military official told CNN that currently, the thinking is that they probably will have to leave. Even if some of the personnel do remain after the pullout on September 11, it will be very difficult to pull off the kind of secret operations the CIA is known for since 9/11.

Bill Burns, Director of CIA last week admitted as much in a Senate Intelligence Committee public hearing. He said, “When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” Burns told before noting the CIA will retain “a suite of capabilities, some of them remaining in place, some of them that we’ll generate that can help us to anticipate and contest any rebuilding effort (by al Qaeda or ISIS).

Jake Sullivan, the National Security advisor on Sunday admitted that the intelligence-gathering capability of the US would decline after the pullout from Afghanistan but there would be enough capability to know about the resurging of Al Qaeda months before it’s too late.

He told to CNN, “It is true as the CIA director said we won’t have the same level of presence on the ground that we did when we had 3,000 troops or 30,000 troops or 100,000 troops.” He added while talking to Dana Bash of CNN on “State of the Union”, “But the CIA director also said we will retain sufficient capability so that we will have months of warning before al Qaeda is able to gather again external plotting capability to threaten the homeland.”

Answering the question regarding the stay of special operation forces in Afghanistan he said, “The US would not have a military presence in Afghanistan other than to protect the embassy.”

Douglas London, 34 years old CIA official said that intelligence operations in Afghanistan rely on the presence of the military that the US kept in the country. He stated, “The US intelligence presence and ability to collect information depends on the military’s infrastructure across the country.”

He further stated, “As the US presence diminishes, and with it, collectors who need to physically acquire intelligence on the ground, so does our visibility.” He continued, “That human intelligence comes from sources on the ground who can be regularly met. How many can travel to Kabul, let alone outside the country?”

Several ways are still being explored by the US officials to mitigate the unavoidable intelligence gap after the withdrawal of the US troops.

The possibility of staging US forces in the region to become able to dip into Afghanistan for the counterterrorism missions is being particularly examined by US officials. But the in-service and former officials say that it is not possible to do it as effectively as doing it while staying in the country.

A US military official said that to maintain any “over the horizon” counterterrorism capability will be very challenging without any closely present basing. He added that those missions would be made “a very different problem” than in past years after the pullout.

The multiple sources who are aware of the planning told that the present sense is that the nearby countries of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan are unexpected to nod to host the US forces, which means the expected possibilities are friendly Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, where the military presence is already maintained by the US.

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