August 22, 2013:
With most American troops poised to withdraw from Afghanistan in the next 16 months, the CIA is also cutting back. From a peak strength of over a thousand agency employees in Afghanistan 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.
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 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 60,000 troops in Afghanistan and how many, if any, remain after 2014 depends on currently stalled negotiations with the Afghan government.
The U.S. has told the Afghans that if they don’t agree to a Status of Forces agreement by the end of 2014, then the U.S. will withdraw all their forces (except up to a hundred or so CIA operatives working out of the embassy). 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. If the U.S. withdraws completely, a lot of the foreign aid might stop coming as well. The implication here is that if the Afghans prove unable to govern themselves and the country once more becomes a terrorist haven, the bombers and commandos will come back and the Afghan leaders responsible for the mess will be brought to account. That threat carries more weight since Osama bin laden was finally taken down two years ago.
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 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). That’s no guarantee that there will 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.