Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

‘Obama’s Wars’ and clandestine operations

September 23, 2010


Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” is making waves for laying bare the policy divisions and the personality clashes within the administration over the U.S. President’s Afghan policy. The author, according to the excerpts published by the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of the book’s release next week, exposes the colliding egos of senior political and military figures in even more stark detail than Rolling Stone‘s profile of General Stanley McChrystal that cost the U.S. commander his job.

But what may turn out to be even more explosive in the theatre where America’s longest war is being waged is the revelation that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan army to carry out clandestine operations in not just Afghanistan, but more importantly over the border in Pakistan. The idea that an Afghan army is fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan is not something that Islamabad can tolerate easily. Or at least the public disclosure of it.

Firing missiles from unmanned U.S. drone aircraft patrolling over Pakistan’s northwest region at a rate that has far outstripped the Bush administration’s record is bad enough ; to now have a brigade-size paramilitary unit operating inside the country marks a significant expansion of the covert war that the Obama administration has waged there.

The Washington Post says Woodward characterizes this previously undisclosed Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams as “elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.” The New York Times advancer of the book says the “covert army” captures and kills Taliban fighters and seeks support in tribal areas.

The CIA directs and funds the force.

U.S. officials didn’t just confirm the existence of the counter terrorism force, they bragged about it. “You’re talking about one of the finest Afghan fighting forces, which has made major contributions to security and stability,” CNN quoted an unnamed U.S official as saying in a report following the publication of the book excerpts.

According to Woodward’s book, by the end of a 2009 strategy review, Obama concluded that the task in Afghanistan could not succeed without wiping out al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in the border tribal areas of Pakistan.

“We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying in the book, the Post said. But crossing into Pakistan was a red line for U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan, so the CIA turned into its classic old strategy of setting up a lethal proxy unit. As Spencer Ackerman writes in the military blog Danger Room :

When it’s politically or militarily unfeasible to launch a direct U.S. operation, then it’s time to train, equip and fund some local proxy forces to do it for you. Welcome back to the anti-Soviet Afghanistan Mujahideen of the 1980s, or the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. push the Taliban out of power in 2001.

But that same history also shows that the U.S. can’t control those proxy forces. Splits within the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal (and the end of CIA cash) led to Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, which paved the way for the rise of the Taliban. One of those CIA-sponsored fighters was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now a key U.S. adversary in Afghanistan. And during the 2001 push to Kabul, a Northern Alliance military commander, Abdul Rashid Dostum, killed hundreds and maybe even thousands of Taliban prisoners. He was on the CIA’s payroll at the time.

The other risk of setting up such “kill teams” is to the operations in Afghanistan itself. The members of such teams are probably recruited from the private militias of warlords. But the U.S. army is itself trying to fight or at least limit the influence of the warlords. How does the CIA’s hit squad built up from these fighters square up with the U.S. military objectives in Afghanistan? And how does it work on the ground? Do these teams cooperate with U.S. forces also pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters?


Next year, US soldiers will go back home to enjoy welcome back parades. US media will get busy with all importand issues like what paris hilton had for breakfast today. and this “elite” “well trained” and now jobless army of killers will be sitting in afghanistan waiting for some osama bin laden to come and hire them. When will US and CIA learn? You could have acheived peace by choking down arms supply and military training in that country and using last 10 years to push in some eductaion and development to those people. instead you just created a few more monsters for countries in region and potentialy yourselves…


Posted by | Report as abusive

“covert army” captures and kills Taliban fighters and seeks support in tribal areas.

Its seems more fictional and follow the known piece of advice — where, if a writer do job of exaggeration well, can atteract good number of readers.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

Operation Jawbreaker of CIA was an opeation undertaken to find, attack & neutralize Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Ex. CIA Field Commander Gary Berntsen, until recently one of the CIA’s most decorated officers, came out from undercover for the first time in 2008 to describe his no-holds-barred pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in . As the CIA’s key commander coordinating the fight against the Taliban forces around Kabul, and the drive toward Tora Bora in Afghanistan, Berntsen not only led dozens of CIA and Special Operations Forces, he also raised 2,000 Afghan fighters to aid in the hunt for bin Laden.

Most crucially, Berntsen tells of cornering Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains, when he begged CENTCOM in Washington to block the al-Qaeda leader’s last avenue of escape into bordering rogue state Pakistan. Berntsen & his team desperately needed U.S. soldiers on the ground off Tora Bora mountains to ‘block the Al Qaeda leader escape into Pakistan’, but his request to Political & Military Leeaders in Washington (CENTCOM) for 800 Army Rangers went unheeded. Instead, the Political & Military leaders in Washington ordered Berntsen and his team to immediately pack their bags & leave for USA.

The team repeatedly found Bin Laden but the U.S. political and military leaders refused to kill him. Jawbreaker was the eleventh such opportunity since 1998, and again shows that uniformed bureaucrats masquerading as U.S. generals let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora, thereby beginning a new chapter of Jihad by Al Qaeda in USA and allies worldwide. That’s when, to counter the double standards of American bureaucracy, CIA started to focus more on Afghan Kill Teams, who will not be “recalled” by Washinton on their whims and fancy & that’s why they have been much more successful.

Posted by N. Ray | Report as abusive

I admire your simple trust in those who spread such stories. If Obama is alive then definitely he is in the USA with a new face and enjoying his retirement. After all his whole family were living with protection from no other than the George W himself. The USA administration have always managed to invent lies with their CIA machinery to justify their war adventures.
Have a nice day.
Rex Minor

Posted by rex Minor | Report as abusive

Hi Ray:

Please define what you mean by “they have been much more successful”.

Posted by erichwwk | Report as abusive

No amount of covert or overt kill teams can succeed in the border areas of AFPAK. This tactic has been tried before in Afghanistan and it failed miserably. There is nothing on ground to suggest a different outcome.
The cost is rising steeply everyday for such operations. Hardware used by these so called teams is now freely and cheaply available in markets in Pakistan. They are good traders not fighters. It is foolhardy to rely on such teams for any measure of success.

Posted by humayun niaz | Report as abusive

Throughout the history Afghans have sold their allegiances to the highest bidder, and no amount is too low for them. If you pay enough, they’ll sell their children to you. Afghans are commonly known for doing this. So it comes as no surprise that CIA is operating in such way under the current Afghan government. I’m simply concerned about what is going to happen after CIA funds dry out? Obviously, they’re not going to last forever. This is no Israel and Afghans have no lobbying power in Washington. Where will the allegiance of these ‘elite, well-trained’ and heavily armed ‘units’ be? Previously, the highest bidder was Al-Qaeda and the outcome was the horror that we saw on 9/11. For some reasons, I hate the sound of this new ‘policy’ and I have a feeling its going to back fire on Americans. We’ll end up with more wars and ‘civilian casualties’. When will we realize that we’re human and we should behave like one?

Posted by Indian Soul | Report as abusive

The guy with the long name tells us that:
“Hardware used by these so called teams is now freely and cheaply available in markets in Pakistan”.
That is amazing news, as no one was aware of being able to buy target acquisition satellites, AC130 Gunships, Apache Helicopters, Submarines and the shipyards to build them and logistics to support them and equipped with long range Tomahawk missiles, secure satellite communications (and the rockets and infrastructure to launch them), Tanks, Planes, APCs, Hospitals…You name it..All of this stuff is now available cheaply and in abundance at some ramshackle shop without running water or electricity in the “Markets of Pakistan”.
The wonders never cease.

Posted by Karpy | Report as abusive

The crap by Karpy is amazing.
Available are: Lensatic compasses (night capable), IR goggles, Night sights, compact comm. equipment etc. These things are used by highly mobile units on the move.
But wait, those listed by Crapy will become available sooner than later.

Posted by humayun niaz | Report as abusive

you appear to be a naive person. Last month I went to a market in a small village in Frnce and saw an ex military guy, offering his outfit for sale. The items one could never even have a glimpse in the civilian world. I equally witnessed on the pavements of Berlin, the russian soldiers selling the most sophisticated military stuff prior to the fall of berlin wall and the Soviets departure from Germany. May I suggest that you take a trip to pakistan and visit the markets in the tribal territory and hand over the list of the equipment, and you are going to see the real world. They would not only sell you the stuff but offer you the delivery in your safe residence in Islamabad or Karachi, even in the USA if you so desire. This is not a novelty, but a reality that most of the marines arte professional smugglers and are flogging the stuff in both directions.
Rex Minor

Posted by rex Minor | Report as abusive

yes, this is the old game of collonialism. hire ones to kills his brothers. devide et impera. make a nation so weak like pakistan now and wait a moment to take it over. do you observe what happend in iraq. us drawn it to fight iran for 8 years. later occupied it and hung on their leader.
dont you immagine if it happend in us. some county invades and hang on george bush jr?
dont you learnt history on persian empire, jenggis kahn, roman emire, and the last rusia?
any empire born, grown, mature and dissapear, the history will proof that it also valid for US. so let continue your agresive behaviour.

Posted by anto | Report as abusive

yes, this is the old game of collonialism. hire ones to kills his brothers. devide et impera. make a nation so weak like pakistan now and wait a moment to take it over. do you observe what happend in iraq? us drawn it to fight iran for 8 years. later occupied it and hung on their leader.
dont you immagine if it happend in US. some county invades and hang on george bush jr?
dont you learnt history on persian empire, jenggis kahn, roman emire, and the last rusia?
any empire born, grown, mature and dissapear, the history will proof that it also valid for US. so let continue your agresive behaviour.
I call the peace minded america, the silent majority, take action to stop the war.
if you do not belief, please take notes and vote for obama second term!

Posted by anto | Report as abusive

The 3.000 CIA mercenary army in the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not achieve anything. The CIA had a similar Kmer guerrillas mercenary army in the borders of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, but they did not achieve anything, nor it helped the U.S. avoid a defeat in the Vietnam War.

Another such CIA mercenary army was also former in Burma, known today as Myanmar, and that army was known as “The Karen Rebels.” They were also a complete failure.

Then there was the CIA mercenary army of Jonas Savimbi in Angola. It killed and maimed thousands of civilians with mines laid to
protect Savimbi’s forces from the Angolan army. That army also achieved nothing.

The CIA also lured the legendary Kurd leader Mustafa Barzani into a posh retirement into the U.S., and probably with false promises to help Kurds achieve autonomy in Southwest Turkey. That was a failure too. The Kurdish PKK guerrillas are still fighting – even though their leader Abdullah Ocalan asked them from a Turkish prison to end the war. In short another failure.

In short, history keeps repeating itself with failures of the CIA recruited, trained and funded armies the have never helped the U.S. achieve anything. Even 637 attempts to assassinate, poison, or depose Cuba’s Fidel Castro failed. And I predict a similar CIA failure in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Nikos Retsos | Report as abusive

@Professor Retsos
Mr Obama is desperately looking fo some advice, how should he find employments for the CIA community if he were to half them and retire the other half. The CIA and the think tank objective is simply to reduce unemployment for the american folks.
Rex Minor

Posted by rex Minor | Report as abusive

A three thousand strong brigade level force operating inside Pakistan? Well i am not surprised but the question is who they are, where are they operating, where do they live, how do they hide their identity,how do they coordinate,their logistics,weapons, ammunition,boarding, lodging and identity if got caught are matters of great surprise. Whether they are afghansas is given here or are they pakistani pashtuns? But remember these very people will get jobless when americans leave Afghanistan and these very people will raise new squads to hit US Pakistani and Afghan interests. It is high time that militancy by all stake holders is abjured and a new approach towards peaceful coexistence is evolved.The amount of money the US spends for killing people, if spent on development projects will turn this region into a developed region which will certainly not resort to militancy. Why not to give a try?

Posted by gulzar khan | Report as abusive

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