Spy Agencies Seek New Afghan Allies as U.S. Withdraws

KABUL, Afghanistan — Western spy companies are evaluating and courting regional leaders exterior the Afghan authorities who may be capable to present intelligence about terrorist threats lengthy after U.S. forces withdraw, in response to present and former American, European and Afghan officers.

The effort represents a turning level within the warfare. In place of one of many largest multinational navy coaching missions ever is now a hunt for informants and intelligence property. Despite the diplomats who say the Afghan authorities and its safety forces will be capable to stand on their very own, the transfer alerts that Western intelligence companies are getting ready for the doable — and even possible — collapse of the central authorities and an inevitable return to civil warfare.

Courting proxies in Afghanistan calls again to the 1980s and ’90s, when the nation was managed by the Soviets after which devolved right into a factional battle between regional leaders. The West continuously relied on opposing warlords for intelligence — and at occasions supported them financially by way of relationships at odds with the Afghan inhabitants. Such insurance policies typically left the United States, specifically, beholden to energy brokers who openly dedicated human rights abuses.

Among the candidates being thought of at the moment for intelligence gathering is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed Afghan fighter who led fighters towards the Soviets within the 1980s after which towards the Taliban as head of the Northern Alliance the next decade. The son — Ahmad Massoud, 32 — has spent the previous couple of years making an attempt to revive the work of his father by assembling a coalition of militias to defend Afghanistan’s north.

Afghans, American and European officers say there is no such thing as a formal cooperation between Mr. Massoud and Western intelligence companies, although some have held preliminary conferences. While there’s broad settlement throughout the C.I.A. and France’s D.G.S.E. that he may present intelligence, opinions diverge on whether or not Mr. Massoud, who’s untested as a pacesetter, would be capable to command an efficient resistance.

The attraction of constructing ties with Mr. Massoud and different regional energy brokers is clear: Western governments mistrust the Taliban’s lukewarm commitments to maintain terrorist teams in another country within the years forward and concern that the Afghan authorities may fracture if no peace settlement is reached. The Second Resistance, as Mr. Massoud now calls his armed rebellion power, is a community that’s against the Taliban, Al Qaeda or any extremist group that rises of their shadow.

Top C.I.A. officers, together with William J. Burns, the company’s director, have acknowledged that they’re searching for new methods to gather data in Afghanistan as soon as American forces are withdrawn, and their capability to collect data on terrorist exercise is diminished.

But Mr. Massoud’s group is in its infancy, determined for help, and legitimacy. It is backed by a dozen or so militia commanders who fought the Taliban and the Soviets up to now, and some thousand fighters positioned within the north. Mr. Massoud says his ranks are crammed by these slighted by the federal government and, very like the Taliban, he thinks that Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has overstayed his welcome.

“We are ready, even if it requires my own life,” Mr. Massoud stated in an interview.

Even the symbols at Mr. Massoud’s occasions harken again to the civil warfare period: previous Northern Alliance flags and the previous nationwide anthem.

But for all of Mr. Massoud’s bluster at current rallies and ceremonies, the concept the Northern Alliance may very well be rebranded and that its former leaders — a few of whom have since turn into ambassadors, vice presidents and prime navy commanders within the Afghan authorities — would observe somebody half their age and with little battlefield expertise to warfare appears unrealistic at this level, safety analysts have stated.

Today, supporting any form of insurgency or constructing a resistance motion poses actual challenges, stated Lisa Maddox, a former C.I.A. analyst who has accomplished in depth work on Afghanistan.

“The concern is, what would the second resistance involve and what would our goals be?” she stated. “I fear folks are suggesting a new proxy war in Afghanistan. I think that we’ve learned that we can’t win.”

Even contemplating an unproven militia chief for doable counterterrorism assurances as worldwide forces go away undermines the final twenty years of state-building, safety analysts say, and virtually turns the concept of an impending civil warfare into an anticipated actuality by empowering anti-government forces much more. Such divisions are rife for exploitation by the Taliban.

The United States had a fraught relationship with the Northern Alliance, making it tough to gather intelligence within the nation. The French and British each backed the senior Massoud within the 1980s, whereas the Americans as a substitute centered totally on teams aligned with Pakistan’s intelligence companies. The C.I.A. connections with Mr. Massoud and his group had been restricted till 1996, when the company started offering logistical assist in change for intelligence on Al Qaeda.

One of the explanations the C.I.A. stored Massoud at arm’s size was his observe document of unreliability, drug trafficking and wartime atrocities through the early 1990s, when Mr. Massoud’s forces shelled Kabul and massacred civilians, as different warlords did.

Now, varied allied governments and officers have completely different views of Mr. Massoud and the viability of his motion. The French, who had been devoted supporters of his father, see his efforts as filled with promise to mount an actual resistance to Taliban management.

David Martinon, the French ambassador to Kabul, stated he has watched Mr. Massoud carefully over the past three years, and nominated him for a for a visit to Paris to fulfill with French leaders, together with the president. “He is smart, passionate and a man of integrity who has committed himself to his country,” Mr. Martinon stated.

Washington is extra divided, and a few authorities analysts don’t suppose Mr. Massoud would be capable to construct an efficient coalition.

Eighteen months in the past, Lisa Curtis, then a National Security Council official, met with Mr. Massoud together with Zalmay Khalilzad, the highest U.S. diplomat main peace efforts with the Taliban. She described him as charismatic, and stated he spoke convincingly in regards to the significance of democratic values. “He is very clearheaded and talks about how important it is to preserve the progress of the last 20 years,” she stated.

In Afghanistan, some are extra skeptical of Mr. Massoud’s energy to affect a resistance.

“Practical experience has shown that no one could be like his father,” stated Lt. Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy minister within the Interior Ministry. “His son lives in a different time and does not have the experience that matured his father.”

Others within the Afghan authorities see Mr. Massoud as a nuisance, somebody who has the potential to create issues sooner or later for his personal self-interests.

Even if there are various opinions of his organizational prowess, there’s broad settlement that Mr. Massoud may help operate as the eyes and ears for the West — as his father did 20 years in the past.

Mr. Massoud, who was educated on the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Britain, returned to Afghanistan in 2016. He spent the subsequent three years quietly build up help earlier than he emerged extra publicly in 2019 by holding rallies and mounting recruiting drives within the nation’s north.

In current months, Mr. Massoud’s rhetoric has grown harder, lashing out at Mr. Ghani throughout a current ceremony in Kabul, and his efforts to safe worldwide help extra aggressive. In addition to reaching out to the United States, Britain and France, Mr. Massoud has courted India, Iran and Russia, in response to individuals acquainted with his pursuits. Afghan intelligence paperwork recommend that Mr. Massoud is buying weapons — by way of an middleman — from Russia.

But Europe and the United States see him much less as a bulwark towards an ascendant Taliban than as a probably essential monitor of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. A technology in the past, Mr. Massoud’s father was outspoken on the burgeoning terrorist threats within the nation. And even when the son can’t command the identical forces as his father, maybe he’ll be capable to supply comparable warnings.

As a younger diplomat, Mr. Martinon remembers listening to in regards to the late Massoud warning to the world throughout his April 2001 go to to France.

“What he said was beware, beware,” Mr. Martinon recalled. “The Taliban are hosting Al Qaeda and they are preparing something.”

Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.

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