The Pentagon is planning to cut most of its military support to the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterterrorism operations by January 5, according to reports.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller revealed the surprising decision in a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel, ABC News reports.
It is not yet known how the unprecedented move will affect the agency, which often relies on the military for logistical support and personnel when it carries out counterterrorism missions, and if it will endanger their officials still on the ground.
According to Defense One, the Pentagon decided to withdraw the support as it reviews whether the military personnel assigned to CIA details could instead be moved to other missions related to Russia and China.
It also comes as Trump continued a post-election push to shrink U.S. involvement in counterterrorism missions abroad.
The Pentagon is planning to cut most of its military support to the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterterrorism operations by January 5, according to reports
While the CIA has its own paramilitary force to carry out counterterrorism operations, military personnel are often added to the detail to aid with transportation and logistics.
These military personnel have been regarded as the backbone of physical security for CIA operations in Afghanistan and other active combat zones.
They have also been a part of some of the most high-profile clandestine counterterrorism missions over the past two decades, Defense One reports.
‘Other departments and agencies don’t need to be as large because DoD supports a ton of other functions across government,’ one former military official told the publication.
‘Imagine all the additional resources the CIA would need if they couldn’t rely on DOD for support!’
A Defense Department spokesperson told ABC that the removal of personnel support was in line with the National Defense Strategy – rolled out by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in 2018 – which is pushing focus onto competitors in Russia and China instead of focusing on wars in the Middle East as they have over the past 20 years.
‘As a responsible actor, the department has taken a look to better align its allocation of resources with the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s shift to great power competition,’ said Lt. Col. Uriah Orland.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller revealed the surprising decision in a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel this week saying that the use of military personnel is being reviewed
‘Much has changed in the first two decades of this century, and DOD simply is working with CIA to ensure that both DOD and CIA are able to jointly confront the national security challenges facing the United States consistent with the NDS,’ he added.
‘DOD also believes that discussions with our partners should proceed quickly.’
A CIA spokesperson insisted that the partnership between the spy agency and the Defense Department remains strong despite the planned withdrawal.
‘There is no stronger relationship nor better partnership than that between CIA and DOD,’ said Nicole de Haay.
A CIA spokesperson insisted the partnership between the agency and the DoD remains strong. Pictured, CIA Director Gina Haspel
‘That partnership has led to accomplishments that significantly advanced U.S. national security, and we are confident that DOD and CIA will continue this close collaboration for years to come.’
Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, warned ABC, however, that it may lead to a ‘serious setback’ in what had been a ‘very strong and effective relationship’.
‘This could increase the risk to CIA officers until it can be readdressed by the incoming administration,’ Mulroy added. ‘If it is not reversed, the CIA needs to be increased in personnel and funding to make up for the difference to continue their critical missions.’
A former official also told Defense One that it could place the CIA in a very dangerous position, endangering officers still active in combat zones.
‘It’s basically going to ask the CIA to carry the burden for two-and-a-half months and pull the rug out from under them at the same time,’ said the former official. ‘If they start dying in Afghanistan, this is going to be a big deal.’
In a potential sign of the threat now faced, Miller’s letter to Haspel came after a CIA paramilitary officer was killed in Somalia last week, according to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Just last Friday, the Pentagon had announced that it will pull most U.S. troops out of Somalia on President Donald Trump’s orders despite the ongoing threat from extremist group al-Shabab. Pictured, service members during a battlefield circulation in Somalia in September
Just last Friday, the Pentagon had announced that it will pull most U.S. troops out of Somalia on President Donald Trump’s orders.
Without providing details, the Pentagon said in a short statement that ‘a majority’ of U.S. troops and assets in Somalia will be withdrawn in early 2021.
There are currently about 700 troops in that Horn of Africa nation, training and advising local forces in an extended fight against the extremist group al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida.
The Pentagon said the drawdown in Somalia does not mark the end of U.S. counterterrorism efforts there, yet it was greeted with dismay from some Somalis who appealed to Joe Biden to reverse the decision once he takes office.
The nature of the threat posed by al-Shabab and the appropriate U.S. response has been a matter of increasing debate in the Pentagon, which has been looking for opportunities to shift its focus toward China as a greater long-term challenge, as per Mallis’ strategy.
Yet, a Defense Department watchdog report last week said U.S. Africa Command has seen a ‘definitive shift’ this year in al-Shabab´s focus to attack U.S. interests in the region. Africa Command says al-Shabab is Africa’s most ‘dangerous’ and ‘imminent’ threat.
The withdrawal of troops from Somalia may already have affected the CIA’s counterterrorism operations in the country, some officials warn.
The Somalia announcement continued a post-election push by President Donald Trump, pictured, to shrink U.S. involvement in counterterrorism missions abroad. Trump has recently also ordered troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq before he leaves office
The Somalia announcement follows Trump’s similar orders for troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Eric Oehlerich, a former Navy SEAL, told ABC that the new pullback from the Defense Department in CIA counterterrorism operations could only ‘be motivated for political reasons’.
‘The relationships on the ground and within the ranks is on solid ground,’ said Oehlerich. ‘Pulling this support is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. ‘
Another former high-ranking CIA official warned ABC that the removal of support may mean that the CIA can no longer continue with counter-terrorism operations.
‘The pushback or slow rolling of this initiative by the Defense Department and the CIA likely renders this moot, but the damage from this shot across the bow has been done,’ added Darrell Blocker, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.