Sunday, May 30, 2004

When it comes to counterterrorism, there is often talk about removing "the walls" between the intelligence agencies to that they can coordinate better and share intelligence with each other. Well, perhaps we ought to remove another so-called wall, this one between the CIA and Special Forces. The Christian Science Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson explains.

It was "High Noon" in Afghanistan. On the dusty main street of the border town of Orgun, a large crowd gathered as three US Special Forces soldiers confronted the corrupt local warlord.

Master Sgt. Mark Bryant positioned his men for a gunfight, then made the first move. "We pulled him and his guys out of the car, and told him 'Hey, you're on foot now. We're confiscating this car because it doesn't belong to you,' " he said.

After a tense standoff, warlord Zakim Khan backed down and left town, culminating months of effort by the Special Forces team to end his grip on the Orgun valley. But the hard-won progress in Orgun proved fleeting, Bryant says. Thanks to a $20,000 monthly CIA stipend intended to buy his loyalty, Mr. Khan survived his 2002 ouster and is now back in power. In fact, knowingly or not, the CIA sealed his comeback by abruptly cutting off US wages for a 300-man Afghan militia that the Special Forces had lured away from Khan and trained, a military official says.

"We don't control that money," Bryant says. "So now you have 300 [well-trained] fighters and you're just going to tell them: 'OK, guys, see ya. Have a nice day.' "

The story of Orgun illustrates how conflicting priorities between the CIA and elite US military units can sometimes hamper efforts to forge alliances with indigenous forces and tribes - relationships increasingly vital to uproot terrorist groups from lawless regions in Afghanistan and around the world.
Fortunately, Tyson reports that Congress is making sure that Special Forces get their own budget, which would make sure that they are more successful in the long term. The bill that would make sure this happens has passed the House, but the Senate hasn't had time to vote on it yet.

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