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

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

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 ability 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 a wide range of restrictions in trade for using a base within the nation, they usually have successfully required that they log off on any targets that both the C.I.A. or the navy would need to hit inside Afghanistan, in accordance with three Individuals aware of the discussions.

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

Current C.I.A. and navy intelligence studies on Afghanistan have been more and more pessimistic. They’ve highlighted features by the Taliban and different militant teams within the south and east, and warned that Kabul may fall to the Taliban inside years and return to turning into a protected haven for militants bent on hanging the West, in accordance with a number of folks aware of the assessments.

In consequence, U.S. officers see the necessity for a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — along with navy and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations — in Afghanistan lengthy after the deadline that Mr. Biden has set for troops to depart the nation. However the scramble for bases illustrates how U.S. officers nonetheless lack a long-term plan to deal with safety in a rustic the place they’ve spent trillions of {dollars} and misplaced greater than 2,400 troops over practically twenty years.

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

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

Mr. Burns didn’t carry up the bottom situation throughout his journey to Pakistan, in accordance with folks briefed on the assembly; the go to centered on broader counterterrorism cooperation between the 2 nations. At the least a few of Mr. Austin’s discussions have been extra direct, in accordance with folks briefed on them.

A C.I.A. spokeswoman declined to remark when requested about Mr. Burns’s journey to Pakistan.

20 years of conflict in Afghanistan have helped remodel the spy company right into a paramilitary group: It carries out tons of of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, trains Afghan commando models 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 for the reason that Vietnam Battle.

These operations have come at a value. Night time raids by C.I.A.-trained Afghan models left a path of abuse that elevated assist 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 assist 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 prone to depend on a “keep behind” community of informants in Afghanistan who would acquire intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the soundness of the central authorities and different matters. However with out a big C.I.A. presence within the nation, he mentioned, vetting the intelligence could 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 sort of like taking part in phone.”

Within the brief time period, the Pentagon is utilizing an plane service to launch fighter planes in Afghanistan to assist the troop withdrawal. However the service presence is unlikely to be a long-term resolution, and navy officers mentioned it could most likely redeploy not lengthy after the final U.S. forces depart.

America 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 will require aircraft and drones to fly as many as 9 hours every manner for a mission in Afghanistan, which might make the operations dearer as a result of they require extra drones and gas, 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 vital proxy drive in Afghanistan towards different teams which have ties to India. Pakistan’s spy company offered 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 off on any U.S. strikes towards the Taliban which can be launched from a base in Pakistan.

Though some American officers consider Pakistan desires to permit U.S. entry to a base so long as it may management how it’s used, public opinion within the nation has been strongly towards any renewed presence by the USA.

Pakistan’s overseas minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, instructed lawmakers final month that the federal government wouldn’t permit the U.S. navy to return to the nation’s air bases. “Neglect the previous, however I need 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 tons of of drone strikes throughout a surge that started in 2008 and lasted through the early years of the Obama administration. The strikes centered totally on suspected Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas, however in addition 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 sequence of high-profile occasions that fractured relations with the USA. They included the arrest of a C.I.A. contractor in Lahore for taking pictures 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 Individuals and the Pakistanis “will need to proceed cautiously” with a brand new relationship, mentioned Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the USA 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 through the conflict.

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 through the name. Any negotiations with these nations are prone to take appreciable time to work out. A State Division spokeswoman would say solely that Mr. Blinken was partaking companion nations on how the USA was reorganizing its counterterrorism capabilities.

Russia has opposed the USA utilizing bases in Central Asia, and that’s prone to make any diplomatic effort to safe entry to bases for the needs of navy strikes a sluggish course of, in accordance with a senior American official.

Whereas the C.I.A. specifically has lengthy had a pessimistic view of the prospects of stability in Afghanistan, these assessments have been refined in latest weeks because the Taliban has made tactical features.

Whereas navy and intelligence analysts have beforehand had assessments at odds with each other, they now are in broad settlement that the Afghan authorities is prone to have bother holding on to energy. They consider 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 might weaken the drive.

Intelligence assessments have mentioned that with out continued American assist, the Afghan Nationwide Safety Forces will weaken and will probably collapse. Officers are working to develop choices for persevering with that assist remotely, however the Pentagon has not but give you a practical plan that officers consider will work.

Some present and former officers are skeptical that distant advising or fight operations will succeed. Gathering intelligence turns into far tougher 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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