CIA to remain in Iraq, Afghanistan after troops’ withdrawal to protect US interests

Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan after the withdrawal of conventional U.S. troops as part of the Obama administration plan to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests in the two war zones, U.S. officials have said.

CIA stations in Kabul and Baghdad are likely to remain the agency's largest overseas outposts for years, The Washington Post reports.

U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven, the Special Operations commander who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year, said: "I have no doubt that Special Operations will be the last to leave Afghanistan."

The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in December has led the CIA to adopt three methods of traditional espionage — monitoring developments in the increasingly antagonistic government, seeking to suppress al-Qaeda''s affiliate in the country and countering Iran's influence.

The CIA is expected to have a more aggressively operational role in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said CIA's paramilitary capabilities are seen as vital for keeping the Taliban off balance, protecting the government in Kabul and preserving access to Afghan airstrips that enable armed CIA drones to hunt al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan.

The CIA has also largely bankrolled and built the Afghan intelligence service and it maintains a constellation of bases along the border with Pakistan.

The CIA stations in Kabul and Baghdad were the largest and second-largest in agency history, surpassing the size of the CIA's station in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War and it had atleast 700 employees in the country.

But the departure of U.S. forces in December has forced the agency to shut many facilities and reduce its presence by half, according to former CIA officials. (ANI)

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