Trump administration officials split over future CIA role in Afghanistan: NYT

NEW YORK, Sep 02 (APP):Trump administration officials are divided over whether to expand CIA’s role in Afghanistan after the U.S. reduces the number of troops in the country, The New York Times reported Monday, amid reports that the US and Taliban are nearing an agreement that would end America’s longest war.

Some White House officials have proposed the move to “secretly” increase the CIA presence, which the spy agency and military officials say could strain peace talks with the Taliban, the report said.

Those who proposed the move want C.I.A.-backed militia forces in Afghanistan to serve as part of a counterterrorism force that would prevent the resurgence of the ISIS or Al Qaeda as American military troops prepare to leave — “in effect, an insurance policy”, according to the Times.

But others are skeptical that the shadowy militias, many of which face accusations of brutality, can serve as a bulwark against terrorism without the support of the American military.

Gina Haspel, CIA director, has also reportedly expressed concerns about the plan with other administration officials and said the agency depends heavily on the military for airstrikes, surveillance, medical support and bomb technicians, according to the report which cites interviews with several current and former officials who have been briefed on the discussions.

The officials who support the plan believe it could address the key concern that a withdrawal of US forces would not prevent terrorist groups from once again using Afghanistan for terrorist operations, according to the paper.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

As US and Taliban negotiators continue working toward a potential Afghan peace deal, US officials have tempered expectations about the outcome and are concerned about its potential impact.

President Donald Trump, who has campaigned on pulling US forces out of the country, said on Thursday he intended to withdraw more than 5,000 troops from Afghanistan — leaving 8,600 on the ground — “and then we make a determination from there as to what happens.”

About 14,000 US service members are currently in Afghanistan alongside NATO troops helping to train and advise Afghan troops while conducting counterterrorism operations. The US-Taliban peace plan is expected to formalize a significant withdrawal of US forces after nearly 18 years of war.

Meanwhile, US media reports say that White House National Security Adviser John Bolton is apparently being “sidelined” by the Trump administration on Afghanistan.

A report in The Washington Post reveals that Bolton — who is opposing the peace deal being worked out — has essentially been sidelined on Afghanistan policy, to the point where he was not allowed to view the draft agreement by himself when he requested it.

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