Greg Miller from the Washington Post reports on the closing of CIA bases in Afghanistan. In tandem with the expected drawdown of 63,000 US troops in 2014, the spy agency is consolidating its territorial extent to a handful of bases.
The CIA first arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, ahead of conventional U.S. troops. In conjunction with Special Forces and Afghan warlords, it soon routed the Taliban. Over a decade later, the Afghanistan years saw the CIA a changed organized: from an espionage agency to a killing machine. “Afghanistan fundamentally changed the way the agency conducts business,” said Richard Blee, who served as the CIA’s senior officer in Afghanistan and Pakistan before he retired in 2007. “We went from a purely espionage organization to more of an offensive weapon, a paramilitary organization where classic spying was less important.”
Although the Obama administration has signaled that it would like the CIA to transition back to its pre-9/11 role, it is likely that its “area of focus” will simply shift westwards, across the Gulf of Aden, past the Horn of Africa, and into the Sahara region.
According to Miller, several years ago there were more than 1,000 CIA case officers, analysts, and other employees in Afghanistan. There are approximately 12 CIA bases in the country, and “officials familiar with the agency’s plans” estimate most agency personnel with migrate to the CIA’s main station in Kabul, plus the “big five” regional bases in Bagram, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad (where the agency flies most of its drones from) and Herat. There may also be “mobile stations” that can be deployed and scaled rapidly around the tribal areas. The closures include those compounds used by “targeters” to identify drone targets in Pakistan. This includes Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost, where seven CIA employees were killed by a suicide bomber in 2009–it is not clear whether CIA staff will remain there.
Regardless of what closes and where, CIA counter-terrorist operations in the region will not go away, even if the U.S. decides to pursue the so-called “zero option”. Mike Sheehan, the assistant defense secretary for Special Operations, testified recently that the strikes will probably last “some period of years,” the official said. “But I don’t think you can project out five or 10.”
The U.S. also owns a string of bases around the landlocked country, including the growing Forward Operating Base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, as well as a “secret” base in Saudi Arabia. This means that the CIA is hardly out of options and operations.