CIA’s Afghan Kill Teams Expand U.S. War In Pakistan
By Spencer Ackerman|Wired.com
Let there be no doubt that the U.S. is at war in Pakistan. It’s not just the drone strikes. According to insider journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, the CIA manages a large and lethal band of Afghan fighters to infiltrate into Pakistan and attack al-Qaeda’s bases. What could possibly go wrong?
Woodward’s not-yet-available Obama’s Wars, excerpted today in the Washington Post and the New York Times, unveils a CIA initiative called the Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams, a posse of anti-Taliban and al-Qaeda locals who don’t respect the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The teams are practically brigade-sized: a “paramilitary army” of 3000 Afghans, said to be “elite, well-trained” and capable of quietly crossing over in the Pakistani extremist safe havens where U.S. troops aren’t allowed to operate. The CIA directs and funds the teams.
Administration officials didn’t just confirm the existence of the teams — they bragged about them. “This is one of the best Afghan fighting forces and it’s made major contributions to stability and security,” says one U.S. official who would only talk on condition of anonymity — and who wouldn’t elaborate.
The teams are an implicit concession of a paradox at the heart of the Afghanistan war: the enemies upon which the war is predicated, al-Qaeda and its top allies, aren’t in Afghanistan anymore. The drones — flown by both the CIA and the U.S. military — are one answer to their safe havens in Pakistan. (Two more drone strikes hit Pakistani tribal areas on Tuesday, bringing the total this year to at least 71.) Another is to launch the occasional commando raid across the Afghan border or rely on Special Forces, operating under the guise of training the Pakistani military, to engage in some dangerous extracurricular activity. Still another is to outsource “snatch and grab” operations against al-Qaeda to private security firms like Blackwater.
But the Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams follow a more traditional, decades-old CIA pattern. When it’s politically or militarily unfeasible to launch a direct U.S. operation, then it’s time to train, equip and fund some local proxy forces to do it for you. Welcome back to the anti-Soviet Afghanistan Mujahideen of the 1980s, or the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. push the Taliban out of power in 2001.