Washington: As part of the American drawdown plans in Afghanistan, the CIA has begun closing its clandestine bases in the war-torn country.
It marks the start of a drawdown from a region that transformed the agency from an intelligence service struggling to emerge from the Cold War to a counter-terrorism force with its own prisons, paramilitary teams and armed Predator drones, the Washington Post said in a report.
The pullback represents a turning point for the CIA as it shifts resources to other trouble spots.
The closures were described by US officials as preliminary steps in a plan to reduce the number of CIA installations in Afghanistan from a dozen to as few as six over the next two years a consolidation to coincide with the withdrawal of most US military forces from the country by the end of 2014, it said.
Senior US intelligence and administration officials said the reductions are overdue in a region where American espionage efforts are now seen as out of proportion to the threat posed by al Qaeda`s diminished core leadership in Pakistan.
The CIA faces an array of new challenges beyond al Qaeda, such as monitoring developments in the Middle East and delivering weapons to rebels in Syria. `
Incidentally, John Brennan, the recently appointed CIA director, has also signalled a desire to restore the agency`s focus on traditional espionage, the report said.
However, officials stressed that the CIA is expected to maintain a significant footprint even after the pullback, with a station in Kabul that will remain among the agency`s largest in the world, as well as a fleet of armed drones that will continue to patrol Pakistan`s tribal belt.
"Afghanistan fundamentally changed the way the agency conducts business," said Richard Blee, who served as the CIA`s senior officer in Afghanistan and Pakistan before he retired in 2007 was quoted as saying.
"We went from a purely espionage organisation to more of an offensive weapon, a paramilitary organisation where classic spying was less important," he said.