Pentagon considering plans to withdraw military support to CIA counterterrorism missions

It follows the 2018 National Defence Strategy recommending to US prioritize competitors like Russia and China over regional conflict in the Middle East

Justin Vallejo
New York
Friday 11 December 2020 16:28
Esper Firing Pentagon Changes
Esper Firing Pentagon Changes

The Pentagon is drawing up plans to withdraw support for the Central Intelligence Agency's counterterrorism mission as the US pivots from regional conflict in the Middle East to focus on Russia and China, according to reports.

Quoting former senior administration intelligence officials, ABC News reports that the Trump administration's new hire, acting defence secretary Christopher Miller, notified CIA director Gina Haspel of the decision in a letter.

Described as "surprising and unprecedented", the review of the Department of Defence's longstanding support of the CIA was first reported by Defense One.

Citing multiple current and former officials, Defence One says the review is the pet project of acting undersecretary of defence for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, another new hire at the DOD following a purge of senior leadership at Pentagon in the wake of the presidential election.

Defence Department spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Orland told ABC News that 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.

That 2018 strategy from former Defence secretary Jim Mattis recommendend the US would prioritize competitors like Russia and China over the counter-terrorism focus of the past 20 years.

"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," Mr Orland said.  

"DOD also believes that discussions with our partners should proceed quickly."

The apparent roll out of that 2018 strategy comes as the Trump administration pulled troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and Africa. Last week Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of most US military personnel from Somalia.

Former officials said it was a fair position for the Department of Defence to want its detailees to be involved in the higher-level missions as the US strategy shifts toward Russia and China.

"And they are — but it’s going to be very few, because there’s very few involved in those missions anyway,” one former administration official told Defense One. “If they go, ‘We don’t want to help you with the (counterterrorism) missions’ — well, somebody has to do it.”

The CIA calls on the military for transportation and logistical support of its counterterrorism operations through its Special Activities Centre.

Despite the reports of the looming breakup, CIA spokeswoman Nicole de Haay told ABC News said the relationship between the two agencies remains strong.

"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," she said.

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