Washington: The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is reported to be expanding its role in Afghanistan, and also playing a greater role in quasi-military operations elsewhere.
According to the New York Times, the CIA is using drone aircraft to launch a steady barrage of missile strikes in Pakistan and sending more operatives to Yemen to assist local officials in their attempts to roll back al Qaeda’s momentum in that country.
The paper further says that CIA personnel regularly take foreign agents onto the base before sending them on intelligence collection missions in eastern Afghanistan and across the border into Pakistan.
“You must to some degree make yourself known to people you don’t trust,” said one American intelligence official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke anonymously to discuss classified information.
The NYT said that the deaths of seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan are a pointed example of the civilian spy agency’s transformation in recent years into a paramilitary organisation at the vanguard of America’s far-flung wars.
It said that the CIA operatives stationed at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province were responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders.
In recent months, American officials said, CIA officers at the base had begun an aggressive campaign against a radical group run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which has claimed responsibility for the deaths of dozens of American troops.
Over the past year, the CIA has built up an archipelago of firebases in southern and eastern Afghanistan, moving agency operatives out of the embassy in Kabul and closer to their targets.
Among those killed, officials said, was the chief of the Khost base, who was a mother of three and a veteran of the agency’s clandestine branch. Besides the seven CIA operatives who died, the blast also wounded six agency employees, according to a CIA statement.
Current and former intelligence officials said on Thursday that early evidence indicated that the bomber, in Afghan military fatigues, might have been taken onto the base as a possible informant and might not have been subjected to rigorous screening.
But details about Wednesday’s episode remain murky.
The CIA has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small — and seldom used — part of its operations.
CIA director Leon Panetta said the names of the agents would not be released "due to the sensitivity of their mission."
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on the Internet, saying they used an Afghan Army soldier working at the base.
Sources said the soldier was invited onto the base in the hopes he could be used as an informant.
The attack was the worst US loss in Afghanistan since October 4 when 8 soldiers were killed at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.
Since 2001, only four CIA operatives have been killed in Afghanistan.