U.S. Counterterrorist Pursuit Team in Afghanistan much larger than thought

The Washington Post reports about the role of Firebase Lilley,  a nerve center in the covert war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda which is used as a CIA hub to train and deploy a well-armed 3,000-member Afghan paramilitary force collectively known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, or ‘Afghan OGA’s’ – other government agency. The Counterterrorist Pursuit Team was set up in the months following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 to penetrate territory controlled  by the Taliban and al-Qaida and target militants for interrogations by  CIA officials.

The 3,000-strong Afghan teams are used for surveillance and long-range reconnaissance missions and some have trained at CIA facilities in the United States. The force has operated in Kabul and some of Afghanistan’s most violence-wracked provinces including Kandahar, Khost, Paktia and Paktika, according to a security professional familiar with the program. Field logs from the wikileaks report reveal glimpses into the kinds of operations undertaken by the CIA and its Afghan paramilitary units along the Pakistani border. In addition to accounts of snatch-and-grab operations targeting insurgent leaders, the logs contain casualty reports from battles with the Taliban, summaries of electronic intercepts of enemy communications and hints of the heavy firepower at the CIA’s disposal.

According to an official familiar with the operations the teams’ primary mission is to improve security in Afghanistan and that they do not engage in “lethal action” when crossing into Pakistan. Their cross-border missions are “designed exclusively for intelligence collection,” the official said.

Unlike regular Afghan army commandos, the CIA-run Afghan paramilitary  units mostly work independently from CIA paramilitary or special  operations forces but will occasionally combine forces for an operation. Despite operating independently, the units coordinate their operations  with NATO, the security professional said. The Afghan force became the focus of a debate last year between CIA and  military officials over who would control its operations. The CIA  remained the lead agency, the former official said.

The Army field reports suggest that the Afghan paramilitary forces can also be ruthless. On Oct. 23, 2007, military personnel at Orgun-E reported treating a 30-year-old Afghan man for the “traumatic amputation of fingers” on his left hand. The patient had been “injured by Afghan OGA during a home breach,” according to the report. The Kandahar branch paramilitaries shot and killed Kandahar’s police  chief and nine other Afghan police officials in 2009 over a dispute  after one of its own members was arrested. During their face-off with  the police chief, the paramilitaries were wearing uniforms and guns bought by the CIA.

Jonathan Horowitz, a human rights expert working with the Open Society  Institute, said: ‘

These paramilitary groups operate in such a cloak of  secrecy that accountability for their abuses is nearly impossible for  most Afghans. These forces don’t fall under an Afghan military chain of  command, and if a civilian is killed or maimed, the U.S. can say it  wasn’t the fault of the U.S.

One Response

  1. […] In Afghanistan the para-military has recruited, trained and led elite Afghan militias. These Counterterror Pursuit Teams are used for surveillance and long-range reconnaissance missions and some have been trained at CIA […]

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