Julius Cavendish / The Independent & Kimberly Dozier / Associated Press – 2010-09-23 23:56:23
How the CIA Ran a Secret Army of 3,000 Assassins
Julius Cavendish / The Independent
KABUL (September 23, 2010) — The US Central Intelligence Agency is running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qa’ida operatives — not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas –, according to Bob Woodward’s explosive book.
Although the CIA has long been known to run clandestine militias in Afghanistan, including one from a base it rents from the Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s half-brother in the southern province of Kandahar, the sheer number of militiamen directly under its control have never been publicly revealed.
Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, describes these forces as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qa’ida and Afghan Taliban havens there. Two US newspapers published the claims after receiving copies of the manuscript.
The secret army is split into “Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams”, and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of many Pakistani Taliban fighters who have crossed the border into Afghanistan to fight Nato and Afghan government forces there.
There are ever-increasing numbers of “kill-or-capture” missions undertaken by US Special Forces against Afghan Taliban and foreign fighters, who hope to drive rank-and-file Taliban towards the Afghan government’s peace process by eliminating their leaders. The suspicion is that the secret army is working in close tandem with them.
Although no comment has been forthcoming, it is understood that the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, approves of the mission, which bears similarities to the covert assassination campaign against al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which was partially credited with stemming the tide of violence after the country imploded between 2004 and 2007.
The details of the clandestine army have surprised no one in Kabul, the Afghan capital, although the fact that the information is now public is unprecedented. There have been multiple reports of the CIA running its own militias in southern Afghanistan.
The operation also has powerful echoes of clandestine operations of the 1990s, when the CIA recruited and ran a militia inside the Afghan border with the sole purpose of killing Osama bin Laden. The order then that a specially recruited Afghan militia was “to capture him alive” — the result of protracted legal wrangles about when, how and if Osama bin Laden could be killed Â– doomed efforts to assassinate him before 9/11.
US Official Confirms Covert CIA Afghan Force
Kimberly Dozier / Associated Press
KABUL (September 23, 2010) — A US official in Washington confirmed reports that the CIA is running an all-Afghan paramilitary group in Afghanistan that has been hunting al Qaeda, Taliban and other militant targets for the agency.
A security professional in Kabul familiar with the operation said the 3,000-strong force was set up in 2002 to capture targets for CIA interrogation. A former US intelligence official said members of the covert Afghan force are used for surveillance and long-range reconnaissance and some have trained at CIA facilities in the United States.
The sources spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
The force, called the Counterterrorist Pursuit Team, was described in a new book by Bob Woodward, “Obama’s Wars.” The paramilitaries, designed after US commando teams, operate in violence-racked provinces including Kandahar, Khost, Paktia and Paktika, as well as the capital, Kabul, the security professional said.
Woodward also reports the units conduct covert operations inside neighboring Pakistan’s lawless border areas as part of a campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban havens there. Pakistan does not permit US special operations forces to enter the area, except for limited training missions. The alleged use of Afghan paramilitaries to carry out spying activities will likely inflame already frayed political relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We do not allow any foreign troops or militia to operate on our side of the border,” said Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. “There are no reports of any such incident, and, should it happen in future, they will be fired upon by our troops.”
The US military, including special operations forces, has been working with the CIA in an intensified crackdown against militants on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Drone strikes run by the CIA are at their highest level yet against Afghan Taliban, Haqqani (militant group battling US and NATO forces in Afghanistan) and al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, while US special operations forces have been staging combined raids with Afghan army special forces against the midlevel leadership that operates on the Afghan side.
It’s unclear whether the CIA-run Afghan paramilitary units also work alongside US special operations forces, but the security professional said the units do coordinate their operations with NATO.
The former official said the Afghan force became the focus of an internal turf battle last year between CIA and military officials over who would control its operations. The CIA remained the lead agency, the former official said.
The US official said the force is highly trained and its raids have made “major contributions.”
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