The CIA has been struggling to put together a new counterterrorism strategy as US troops withdraw from Afghanistan and analysts warn of “ever-growing risks” of a Taliban takeover.
The New York Times reported on Sunday “the CIA is seeking ways to maintain its intelligence-gathering, war-fighting and counterterrorism operations in the country.”
The report focused on Pakistan, saying “the CIA used a base there for years to launch drone strikes against militants in the country’s western mountains, but was kicked out of the facility in 2011, when US relations with Pakistan unraveled.
“Any deal now would have to work around the uncomfortable reality that Pakistan’s government has long supported the Taliban.”
The Times article stated that discussions are ongoing over the use of Pakistan for more bases:
“In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the CIA or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan, according to three Americans familiar with the discussions.”
The Times reported that US diplomats are exploring the possibility of establishing US bases in the region with former Soviet republics, but expect that Russia’s President Vladimer Putin would oppose this.
Citing “several people familiar with the assessments,” The Times report said that recent CIA and military intelligence reports on Afghanistan have been “increasingly pessimistic” and have “highlighted gains by the Taliban and other militant groups in the south and east, and warned that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within years and return to becoming a safe haven for militants bent on striking the West.”
William J. Burns, the CIA director, told US senators in April: “When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” adding: “That is simply a fact.”
The CIA head visited Islamabad, Pakistan in recent weeks to meet with the chief of the Pakistani military and the head of the directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, but a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about Burns’s travel to Pakistan, said The Times.
According to “American officials familiar with the conversations,” The Times reported, “Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has had frequent calls with the Pakistani military chief about getting the country’s help for future US operations in Afghanistan.”
It is noted here that Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last month categorically said that Pakistan would not provide bases to the US forces.
The report noted that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke this month with his counterpart in Tajikistan, “though it is not clear if base access was discussed during the call.”