Withdrawal From Afghanistan Will Diminish U.S. Intelligence Network, CIA Chief Says

412th TW integrates with 2nd BW (Photo by Senior Airman Max Miller, 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs)

WASHINGTON — Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were warned by CIA Director William Burns that American intelligence operations in Afghanistan will be kneecapped by the United States’ imminent withdrawal from the region. 

Burns, confirmed as the head of the CIA by the Senate last month, testified before the committee that although the United States would retain some capability to anticipate rebuilding efforts by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the eventual withdrawal will undermine the government’s ability to act on threats originating from the region. 

“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” Burns said during the hearing. “That’s simply a fact. It is also a fact, however, that after withdrawal — whenever that time comes — the CIA and all of our partners in the U.S. government will retain a suite of capabilities… that can help us to anticipate and contest any (terrorist) rebuilding effort.”

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will commence on May 1 and will be fully executed by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that spurred the U.S. invasion of the country. Former President Donald Trump had originally set May 1 as a deadline for full withdrawal, which Biden noted in his announcement of the operation. 

U.S. and NATO forces have already begun a coordinated withdrawal effort to pull roughly 9,600 soldiers from Afghanistan. Officially, 2,500 U.S. troops currently remain in the country although the true figure was believed to be closer to 3,500 troops in March.

On Tuesday, the State Department ordered government employees “whose functions can be performed elsewhere” to depart from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The order came from an updated travel advisory in which the department urged American citizens not to travel to Afghanistan and advised those there currently to leave as soon as possible on commercial flights.

“President Biden’s decision hands the Taliban and al Qaeda a propaganda victory, abandons our global leadership position, and plays into our adversaries’ hands,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in a written statement. “As we saw with President Obama’s reckless decision to pull troops out of Iraq in 2011, retreat does not end the fight against terrorism. It merely gives our enemies more room to reconstitute and plot attacks against the homeland.” 

At this time, neither al Qaeda nor the Islamic State has the capacity to stage major attacks against the U.S., Burns said in his testimony. Biden contended in his announcement of the operation that the U.S. invasion’s primary objective had been met and said the withdrawal would be unconditional. 

Following his testimony and the President’s announcement, Burns traveled to Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press. Although the CIA declined to comment on Burns’ surprise visit to the region, two of six units directed by the CIA to track militants have been transferred over to Afghan control. 

“I have long believed that it is well past time for the United States to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan,” Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., said on Twitter. “I supported President Trump’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2020, and I agree with President Biden’s decision now.” 

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