WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: The CIA has launched a new “hunt and kill” mission in Afghanistan, targeting Taliban militants across the country, the US media reported on Monday.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said last week that the United States wants to beat the Taliban in the battlefield first to force them to negotiate peace with the government in Kabul. This is also a key component of the policy US President Donald Trump announced in his address to the American nation on Aug 21.

“President (Trump) has made it very clear. We are going to do everything we can … to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Afghanistan with the Taliban having zero hope that they can win this thing on the battlefield,” Mr Pompeo told a US think-tank in Washington last week.

The New York Times was the first to report that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is sending small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors to hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country. Other media reports added that these teams will operate with official Afghan forces but may not have official US troops with them.

The reports claim that US President Donald Trump has decided to give CIA an “increasing integral” role in his efforts to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, which is already America’s longest military engagement ever.

The reports noted that while the agency was involved in drone attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the ground it primarily focused on combating Al Qaeda and helping the Afghan intelligence service but now Washington has decided to give it a greater role.

The US military, the reports added, would focus on conducting large-scale operations and the CIA’s paramilitary division will perform these “hunt and kill” operations. The agency is already fighting the militant the Islamic State group in Afghanistan.

“The expansion reflects the CIA’s assertive role under its new director, Mike Pompeo, to combat insurgents around the world,” NYT observed.

“The agency is already poised to broaden its program of covert drone strikes into Afghanistan; it had largely been centered on the tribal regions of Pakistan, with occasional strikes in Syria and Yemen,” the newspaper added.

The report also said that the new CIA mission is a tacit acknowledgement that to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the United States will need to aggressively fight the insurgents.

In his Aug 21 speech, President Trump also vowed to loosen restrictions on hunting terrorists. “The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms,” he said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful.”

Mr Pompeo not only supported this strategy but also criticized Pakistan for not helping the US in eradicating militancy from the Pak-Afghan region.

In his remarks at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Washington, he urged the Trump administration not to have high-expectations from Pakistan.

“I think, history would indicate that high expectations for the Pakistanis’ willingness to help us in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, should be set at a very low level,” he said. “Our intelligence would indicate the same, that is, I think, we should have a very real conversation with them about what it is that they are doing and what it is that they could do and about the American expectations for how they would behave.”

The CIA director acknowledged that Pakistan was an important country in a strategically sensitive region and that’s why it could not be ignored.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017

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