Ex-CIA officer: Assassination strategy in Afghanistan ‘may just work’
WikiLeaks calls out Time columnist by Twitter for mentioning failed assassination but not seven children killed
According to former CIA field officer Robert Baer, a policy of targeted assassination against the Taliban could be what’s needed to “turn the tide in Afghanistan” — but he appears to see little chance of it being carried out effectively
Baer, who has been considered a particularly knowledgeable commenter on Middle Eastern affairs since he retired from the CIA in 1997, writes in a Thursday column for Time magazine, “The Obama Administrations new military strategy in Afghanistan may be a sign of desperation — a Hail Mary pass — but it may just work.”
Baer points out that drone strikes against “al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas of Pakistan … have badly hurt al-Qaeda, with its remnants either hiding in caves or fleeing to places like Yemen. Not surprisingly, the military has asked, Why can’t we do the same in Afghanistan?”
Critics like Glenn Greenwald have argued passionately against the use of assassination as a strategy on both moral and Constitutional grounds, particularly when it targets American citizens. Greenwald also noted last winter that “it was recently revealed that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. had compiled a ‘hit list’ of Afghan citizens it suspects of being drug traffickers or somehow associated with the Taliban, in order to target them for assassination. When that hit list was revealed, Afghan officials ‘fiercely’ objected on the ground that it violates due process and undermines the rule of law to murder people without trials.”
Baer’s objections, however, are pragmatic rather than moral, and he appears particularly concerned about the extent to which the CIA is being swept up in this latest enthusiasm.
“An official back from Washington told me I’d be surprised at the extent to which my former colleagues in the CIA are caught up in this new Afghan strategy,” Baer writes. “The CIA in Afghanistan wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night thinking about how it can better guide [White House counterterrorism adviser John] Brennan’s scalpel. … But the flaw in the new strategy remains the availability of good, solid intelligence.”
Baer has been warning for years that the CIA is overly enamored of its electronic spying devices and badly neglects human intelligence on the ground. His 2002 best-seller, See No Evil, even blamed this tendency for allowing 9/11 to happen.
Now he suggests, “What’s clear in Afghanistan is that while our military is more than capable of wielding a scalpel, we don’t have the intelligence to point out where to strike. We saw evidence of this in the Wikileak documents on the failed assassination of al-Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi in Afghanistan.”
WikiLeaks responded quickly to this mention of its document dump, twittering angrily, “Time mentions Abu Laith al-Libi assassination attempt. Neglects to mention killed 7 children.”
Baer, for his part, concludes by writing, “Like any Hail Mary pass, we’ll just have to wait and see whether the play works.”