In the weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Special Operations Command sent intelligence officers and special operations forces to Afghanistan, making them the first American boots on the ground. Now, with the official end of the Iraq War and the upcoming withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, it is becoming clear that the first ones in will be the last ones out.
As the U.S. military begins to shift away from combat missions in Afghanistan over the coming two years, instead focusing on advising Afghan forces, CIA paramilitary operations officers and Defense Department special operations forces will increasingly work together to protect U.S. interests long after conventional U.S. troops have left.
“The question that has to be asked is, once the regular troops leave Afghanistan, under what authorities are those special operations troops and intelligence forces going to operate, and what missions are they going to be doing,” said Rick Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s something that I think needs to be defined. This authority question affects what these forces can do, how they can do it, what their resources are, and what their oversight will be.”