May 29, 2014:
The U.S. Army and the Afghan security forces are not happy about how the CIA is shutting down most of its operations in Afghanistan. It was a year ago that the CIA began shutting down facilities and reducing its personnel in Afghanistan. From a peak strength of over a thousand agency employees a few years ago (and several times that many in contractors and local hires), the agency is shrinking its Afghan presence down to about a third of its peak. About half the dozen (or so) CIA bases in Afghanistan are being closed. What bothers the Afghans the most is the fact that as the CIA pulls out of an area they take with them the payroll and other support they provided to local militias that helped with security (for the CIA base as well as local civilians). The Afghans have also come to value the intelligence work the CIA does, using a combination of local informants, electronic/aerial surveillance and analysis.
While the U.S. Army is unhappy about the CIA (and their local militias) going away the CIA points out that this is often because the American army is shutting down bases that the CIA shared. The CIA doesn’t have the manpower or budget to build and staff (especially with security) purely CIA bases. Moreover the CIA is much in demand worldwide and more CIA personnel are needed elsewhere, especially in Africa, Syria and Yemen.
One facility that is definitely staying open is the CIA airbase near the Pakistan border in Nangarhar province (eastern Afghanistan). CIA UAVs fly from here for recon and strike missions over northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. This CIA air force will be even more vital after most American forces leave. That’s because U.S. troops will take most of their helicopters and aircraft with them. The U.S. is still negotiating how many of these aircraft might stay behind. The U.S. had long planned to keep about 10,000 troops behind to provide support for Afghan forces. There are currently about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan (down from 60,000 a year ago and 100,000 in 2011) and how many, remain after 2014 depends on currently stalled negotiations with the Afghan government. The recent presidential elections in Afghanistan indicate that whoever wins is eager to sign a Status of Forces agreement by the end of 2014. Such “Status of Forces” agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan judges and prosecutors. It appears that about 10,000 U.S. troops will remain.
The Afghans are already feeling the loss of CIA support, as the agency ran many intel operations in Afghanistan that provided Afghan security forces with extremely valuable information. The U.S. Army has offered to assume responsibility for paying and supervising the CIA Afghan militias as well as using army intel personnel to take over much of the work in some CIA bases that are being closed. Details of this still have to be worked out and won’t be final until the Status of Forces agreement is.
The Afghans have noted how Iraqi casualties and terrorist attacks increased after all American forces left at the end of 2011 (because no Status of Forces agreement could be agreed on). For a while it looked like there might not be an agreement in Afghanistan because, as in Iraq, there are many who would prefer there be no highly efficient foreign intelligence operation in the country. In Iraq a lot of Iranian money, threats, and promises were used on Iraqi officials to see that there was no Status of Forces treaty. In Afghanistan Iran would also prefer no Status of Forces, and so would the drug gangs. Most Afghans, however, want Americans to remain.